Enlarging the table to talk small business

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Local entrepreneurs and developers had the opportunity to learn how to expand retail opportunities and better meet community needs today at a seminar in the Near Southside district.
Fort Worth South, Inc. hosted a seminar entitled,“Bringing Small-Scale Retail to the Near Southside,” at the Moncrief Cancer Institute. Admission included a $25 fee and the seminar ran from 8 to 11 a.m.
“The seminar serves as a way to talk to local property owners, developers and small business entrepreneurs interested in doing projects and looking to create a business in the Near Southside,” said Megan Henderson, director of events and communications for Fort Worth South, Inc.
Henderson said the most valuable information to come out of the seminar was regarding technical details of new development.
She said the discussion was led from a construction standpoint. Topics ranged from building and financing development projects, to teaching how to modify large scale units into smaller spaces.
Monty Anderson, founder of Options Real Estate, led the discussion over bringing micro-retail to the area. Henderson said Anderson was qualified for the job.
“Monty is experienced in working with a nontraditional financing model, and sees micro-retail as the next major wave in the market,” Henderson said. “He works very closely with local entrepreneurs and knows they deliver something truly unique to any development. For us, he is a great example of the type of development we see as being very compatible with the Near Southside.”
Henderson said retail expansion in the Near Southside has been in discussion for about 25 years.
“In 1995, we drafted the strategic action plan for the Near Southside, which emphasized the importance of small business,” Henderson said.
She said Fort Worth South, Inc. remains committed to that plan by continuing to create the environment necessary to support small businesses.
“It’s something we take a chip at every year,” Henderson said. “The needle moves every time we have a small business open in the area that fits the criteria, but it’s taken over 20 years.”
Henderson said the district has moved over the last ten years focusing on being restaurant and pub-oriented, and now it’s time to fill in the retail side.
Austin Patry, a TCU junior entrepreneurial management major, who frequents the district said adding more retail will increase foot-traffic in the area.
“The restaurants are dominating the scene right now,” Patry said. “People drive to the restaurant, eat their food, and drive away. By diversifying the area with more retail shops and grocers, people will feel more inclined to stick around after their meals and explore the area.”
Henderson said members of the community have said they would like to see more businesses catering to music, books, home decor and child-friendly places like ice cream and candy shops to enter the retail scene.
Henderson said area residents have also expressed a need for a small, urban market or grocer.
“The neighborhood’s vision and our vision are one in the same,” Henderson said. “We work continually with the small businesses of our district to talk about what the neighborhood is still asking for, and how we are able to implement them. We are in conversation with people on a daily basis who are looking at the neighborhood, or have a plan for exactly what is wanted here.”
Henderson said the neighborhood has faced challenges in offering these amenities to the community due to high demand and increased competition among space in the Near Southside.
“Outside developers see this area as a very interesting opportunity for investment,” Henderson said. “There are people unfamiliar with the character of our district who are engaging in bidding wars for land, buildings and other development projects. As that demand increases, we are more at risk than ever of losing the unique character that makes our district what it is.”
Patry said developers and entrepreneurs do run a risk when retail space appears scarce in an area, but finding the right people locally will make hashing out those problems a little easier.
“There are entrepreneurs who love taking on high-risk/high-reward scenarios such as these,” Patry said. “It’s just a matter of finding them.”
Henderson said the job of Fort Worth South, Inc. is to encourage the right type of development, and to help put the right people at the table to make that development possible.
She said Fort Worth South, Inc. is interested in partnering with a range of people of different backgrounds of experience, including start-ups.
“The greatest potential lies in some of the start-up businesses, because those people are coming to the table looking for a new model, they don’t have one they’ve been relying on,” Henderson said. “The startups are fantastic partners, because they ask tough questions, and are willing to build in a nontraditional manner if we can prove it will be successful for them.”
Henderson said it will take efforts from her team as well as the community to ensure a healthy climate for small businesses to be successful in the Near Southside.
“Every purchase we make decides whether the small business sector of our community can be successful or not,” Henderson said. “It may mean you pay a little extra for a better ice cream cone, made with high quality ingredients, that is keeping the money right here in the neighborhood.”
Henderson said more seminars are to take place, once her team and the community are able to find other information gaps and seek people with the expertise to fill the gaps.
“What our visitors in the Near Southside want to see in the area, if people believe there are gaps in what the neighborhood offers, we want to know them,” Henderson said. “We want to be the champion of filling those gaps.”
Henderson said 100 years ago, the Near Southside had more residents and businesses than there are today. She said the area has a lot of work to do in order to get back to being the vibrant area it once was.
“This is another effort to ensure that as the Near Southside continues to grow, we never lose sight of the culture that makes us so special,” Henderson said.
Patry said the decision to invest in local entrepreneurs and developers, instead of large franchises, will allow the area to maintain its unique, authentic and creative vibe.
As a local, Patry said he is hoping the development idea becomes a reality, because he hopes to pitch his own business to the area.
“It is really inspiring to hear Fort Worth encouraging entrepreneurs to follow their dreams,” Patry said. “I have been trying to form my own company, so knowing the city I live in will support me along the way is a comforting feeling.”