by Elisha Shumaker, EDN
Friendly entrepreneurs on Blair Boulevard are the drive behind a number of small local businesses boasting a fantastic variety of offerings. Three of these establishments were recently awarded development grants as part of the Blair Boulevard Small Business Neighborhood Renovation Program.
The program is a public-private partnership between the City of Eugene Community Development Division, Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation, Entrepreneurial Development Services and Wells Fargo Bank. The three recipients of grant funding were Nib: A Modern Eatery, Carnicera & Taqueria Mi Tierra and Marco Beauty and Wig.
According to the city’s press release, applications for the grant were judged by their feasibility, the impact the project would have and the design merit. Each of the businesses that were awarded a grant received $3,000 to accomplish its improvements.
The goal of the grant was to refresh buildings, increase sales, and promote the building of a “vital and attractive” business district. The funds, provided by Wells Fargo, are being used to make minor changes that are expected to have major impact. For instance, new signage, improved outdoor seating, interior design and style updates, and outdoor lighting are some of the areas slated for improvement. Renovations are expected to be completed by the end of this month.
Of the three businesses, the one having made the most dramatic improvements will be awarded an additional $500 in grant funding by Wells Fargo, to be used for further development. Additionally, local architects, U of O architectural students and Wells Fargo employees will be volunteering their time and services.
Grant recipients also have the opportunity to receive an additional $3,000 in low interest loans through the city’s Community Development division’s Business Development Fund. The Business Development Fund operates as part of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant. This program has provided $17 million to 220 businesses in Eugene. This grant was initiated in 1974 with the intent of creating jobs and addressing a wide array of other community development needs.
William Ellis, Program Assistant for Community Development for the City of Eugene spoke with EDN about the disbursement and implementation of the grants. Ellis, who is supervising the project, said that after reviewing applications from a number of businesses in the Blair business district, deciding on recipients came down to meeting with the owners, and looking at their capacity to fulfill specific plans, as well as the impact the proposed changes would have on the businesses and the street. He noted that the scheduled improvements for Carnicera & Taqueria Mi Tierra would “increase vitality and bridge a connection from one end of Blair to another,” as the business is nestled midway on Blair between 6th and 7th streets. Ellis said the appeal for Marco Beauty and Wig was their new vision for an older business, and the ability to utilize community connections to materialize their vision.
Ellis credited the work of local design and architectural students as adding value to the small changes, making them more effective, “balancing priorities with creativity and a few thousand dollars make this effort holistically beneficial and invaluable. There has been a lot of forethought and decision making by the designers,” Ellis said.
Ellis said the Blair Boulevard area was targeted for grants because “at Blair there are a lot of creative new restaurants and businesses in a lower income area that would benefit from more visibility, and are on the cusp of achieving this. With a just a little push this can give young but thriving businesses momentum.”
Ellis hopes to see measurable increases in revenue as a return on this investment. He said the added benefits of the project include “a beautification of the neighborhood, as well as an increased prominence of the “Blair Boulevard Business District” – it’s eclectic and diverse, a fun place to take people from out of town. I think it also shows how well people respond to public-private partnerships. So many people are involved in this project – showing up, coming together and getting involved -something that is critical especially in the poor economic climate”.
At Nib: A Modern Eatery, located at 769 Monroe Street, business owner and professional cook Shane Tracey, bustles about from bread to bisque in a graceful culinary dance in his kitchen, which is nestled between his restaurant’s dining area and the Sweet Life Patisserie next door. Aromas of freshly baked bread fill the kitchen as he pours wine, and then more wine into simmering skillets containing his creations in preparation for the evening’s diners.
Although still collaborating with the design teams, Tracey says that his vision for improvements includes covering the back patio in order to extend the restaurant’s outdoor seating season.
“Having a waiting area in the winter and being able to seat people right away improves our level of service.” He said he is also planning to remove the existing deck to make the the area wheel chair accessible. Shane told EDN that he would also like to replace his existing signage in the front of the building with an awning, if funds were able to encapsulate the costs.
“What changes can be made without upsetting the historic register? For instance, installing an awning out front may or may not present a problem,” Tracey said.
Tracey sees the greatest benefit of the grant as being “able to do projects that have been talked about previously. As small as we are, it’s always a challenge to get ahead; it’s nice to occasionally have a leg-up with things like this, to have a chance to improve.”
In a plaza across the street from Nib, contemporary wigs line the sales window of grant recipient Marco Beauty & Wig (784 Blair). The salon has been in business in Eugene for more than 30 years. This October marks the first year of business for current owner Kayla Knighten.
Kayla told EDN she is hoping to use the money her business receives from the grant for a new sign, new flooring and a display case for the wig gallery. As a grant recipient, she is being given the final decision on improvements to be implemented.
“They [design team] had some really good ideas but let me decide what to do,” Kayla said. She thinks the changes being made will make a business that has had “no changes over the past 30 years finally stand out.”
Kayla said that for Marco Beauty & Wig, receiving this grant has encouraged people to “finally know who we are. We’ve had people come in after hearing about us (because of the grant).”
At 628 Blair, Angelica Salgado, owner of Carniceria & Taqueria Mi Tierra, took a break from the busy kitchen of her family-run restaurant to talk about the enhancements being made to the Mexican eatery and grocery establishment.
She hopes to add more lighting out front, bike racks and a patio deck with plants , “improvements that will increase customer comfort while eating,” Salgado said.
New asphalt was being laid during a recent visit to the eatery, an addition that Salgado says will be used for the placement of fruit and vegetable pallets outside of the grocery portion of the business, allowing for the expansion and increased visibility of the store’s produce section.
Salgado said she expects this to “increase our exposure and customer awareness of our business.”
Salgado said she is excited to have the opportunity to make these changes, which they had already had in mind.
“Now we can focus on making further improvements with other funds – for instance, increasing lighting and security,” Salgado said. She believes customers will notice the difference and hopes that the changes make the seemingly small restaurant appear as its actual size.
The public-private partnership between the City of Eugene and Wells Fargo has been a beneficial leg-up for small businesses that might otherwise struggle to make these small but effective changes.