The New Mecca For Brick-And-Mortar Businesses
Y ou may have seen the changes happening on 900 South in the area of Downtown Salt Lake City known as Liberty Wells. Businesses such as Publik, Laziz Kitchen, Chip Cookies, Pulp Lifestyle Kitchen, Freshie’s Lobster Co., and yes, Maven Well—which my husband and I own—have turned the street into a curated community of lifestyle entrepreneurs.
Not only do these companies bring life and vibrance to the neighborhood, but most of them are female owned. In a world where only two percent of venture capital seed money goes to female owned businesses—even though women VC funded businesses have a 50 percent higher return than men—this matters. Salt Lake City is often touted as a great place for entrepreneurs, but for women’s startups the support here is remarkable.
It All Started With Publik
My husband and I were uniquely set up for the market. I am the former owner of 9th and 9th Pilates and my husband, Tim Watcke, is a developer. Needless to say, we both took notice of the 9th South corridor the second Publik Coffee opened.
“It was an incredible piece of property, architecturally, and a dream to renovate due to it’s structural integrity,” says Missy Greis, developer and owner of Publik Coffee. “But the out of the way location, coupled by the one-way street I-15 off-ramp was definitely a hurdle. In the end, people were easily enticed to frequent our space—the whole location ‘thing’ was really just a happy accident!”
Liberty Wells wasn’t on anyone’s radar as a destination until then. Flanked by 9th and 9th and Central 9th, the neighborhood was riddled with run down houses and abandoned buildings. A year ago, homelessness, petty theft, and drug issues were a common problem, and many of the homeowners were nervous. Now the area is on the rise and home prices are going up fast. The revivification comes, in no small part, due to the large number of developers and business owners who have invested in the area.
Alongside Ms. Greis, the first few to recognize the area’s potential were developers Kristy Blair and Kathia Dang. When Forage first opened in what is now the Venetto space, Ms. Blair wondered if it would really work. Would people come? They did. But she knew this growth was a predictable pattern.
“With rents going up in 9th and 9th, it was becoming unaffordable,” she says. “Liberty Wells had character, accessibility to downtown, residential [houses], good traffic count, and parking.
“People in Salt Lake City are hyper local and love supporting new businesses. SLC facade grants helped, too,” she adds.
Kathia Dang, the woman behind Manoli’s and Basalt’s remodels as well as the newly minted Freshies Lobster Co., also believed the area was ripe for development. “I only rent to local small businesses. We all benefit if it’s done right from the beginning, from design and picking the businesses involved,” she says.
Now All Your Favorite Restaurants Live Here
Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbeiti of Laziz Kitchen were early to see the potential of the neighborhood they lived in. After years of selling hummus at local farmers markets, the two jumped at the opportunity to start a restaurant where they lived. Laziz Kitchen was born and now touts middle eastern cuisine and fresh eats.
“We could sense the gravity moving west, away from 9th and 9th and wanted to be the western bookend of the 9th south corridor,” says Mr. Kitchen, City Council Member and Co-Owner of Laziz Kitchen. “We wanted to prove that you could be successful on the west side. Us and a few other small businesses took a risk together, so it didn’t feel as big.”
The move paid off. Salt Lake City is expected to double its size in the next 25 years, and Mr. Kitchen believes neighborhood business districts make quality of life in a growing city even better. “Everywhere I look, new and interesting people are doing great things,” he says. “We wanted to be a part of that and firmly believe there’s room for us all.”
Josh Rosenthal of La Barba, Seabird Bar, and now Creek Tea, says the growing community serves as a kind of upward spiral to increased success. “Because the attention given to the design of the block it’s a phenomenal canvas for a creative entrepreneur. Equally as powerful is the synergy of all the like-minded people descending upon it together. The creative in me loves the architecture, the businessperson in me loves the access to parking and car count,” he says.
All Your Favorite Wellness Businesses Are Here Too
I may be biased, but I have to agree. Around the same time, I was looking to expand my fitness studio. My husband and I had a vision to create a community of entrepreneurs that celebrated the larger community it lived in. Slowly—because development in this city is very slow from permitting backlogs and red tape—we began telling our vision to anyone who would hear us. We didn’t know if it would work and we hadn’t really seen the concept executed anywhere else, but eventually, we scooped up a handful of properties in a row and dubbed them The Maven District.
Maven Strong is a fitness studio that incorporates five fitness studios in one. Next door, Maven Well, provides a collection of wellness and beauty professionals including physical therapists, integrative health doctors, massage therapists, salons, and spa. Nearby there are a few places to eat: Chip Cookies, Creek Tea, Passion Flour, and Normal Ice Cream. And there are a few places to shop: Love Street, Koo De Ker, Mineral and Matter, Chantel Lauren, and Land of Salt.
Kyong Ann, owner of Koo De Ker, a clothing boutique new to the block says moving her shop to a new location after 15 years was a leap of faith. “As scary as change can be, I knew ultimately Liberty Wells would be something new and different for Salt Lake City,” she says. “I wanted to be part of that growth and, being one the first businesses to open in the Maven District, I hope to contribute in some small way.”
The Maven District now houses 26 locally owned businesses and 19 of them are women owned. Did you miss that? Nineteen female-owned businesses in one half of a block. Every one of those small business owners took a chance to on us and our vision. They followed their dream to do something different, something outside the norm, and all on their own.
A New Community Of Lifestyle Entrepreneurs
Now that the block is full, you can feel the energy these new businesses have created. People are talking, connecting, working together, building partnerships. It is remarkable how the community welcomes new members with open arms. Block parties, family activities, and pop-up shops are becoming a weekly occurrence. And we’re still growing too. The townhomes where Arctic Circle once stood are in construction to round out the block.
Up and down the street cool things are happening. The masterminds behind Arte House, Thyme and Place, Manoli’s, Basalt Spa, and Pig in a Jelly Jar have long known Liberty Wells to be the next hot spot. But now several newcomers have been welcomed to the scene. “I think businesses want to be in Liberty Wells because it is where the city meets the people,” says Lorin Smaha, owner of the newly opened Freshie’s Lobster Co.—a Park City favorite with a cult following. “I love the feel of being in a neighborhood where there is life, people walking around, and living. I want Freshies to be a part of that daily life.”
This is a momentous time to be living in Salt Lake City. More people are moving to Utah than ever before. The female entrepreneur scene here is unlike anywhere else in the country. Women here support each other, lift each other up, and do it all without knowing what they might get in return. The resources in our city to help out small businesses are plenty. The landscape is prime. If you’ve been waiting to find a reason to start your own thing, the time is now. Come join our community.