When I recently interviewed Jack Storey, director of the celebrated Red, White, and Blueprints: A Rust Belt Documentary, he announced his next film project would be centered around the challenges that face entrepreneurs. Sitting in a little mom and pop diner in Collinwood, Storey tackled the obstacles stacked against aspiring business owners; among them student loan debt, legislature, educational and generational gaps.
“There’s little venture capital for things that aren’t Facebook 2.0 or medical research. I understand that from an economic standpoint — it’s the thing that people see value in,” he said. “But there’s still value in retail, there’s still value in these smaller enterprises. And, in fact, they still employ a healthy amount of the country. So if we can’t have people starting those now, how are we going to get there twenty years from now?”
I spent the last six months meeting one-on-one with new business owners in Cleveland to help tell their stories, whether brick and mortar, mobile and incubator-based, freelancers, or planning for a storefront. Each had a unique story, whether it was Jesse Mason and Helen Qin of Mason's Creamery, who just moved to Cleveland from L.A. or Lyz Bly and RA Washington of Guide to Kulchur, who are longtime Cleveland residents and finally giving a home to their passion.
Through Cellar Door Cleveland, small business owners were able to share tips with the public, their greatest challenges, and their most rewarding moments. Thank you to Justin and Allie Markert of Cellar Door for being tireless supporters of local businesses in Cleveland and Stephanie Sheldon for helping to facilitate the Cleveland Flea Spotlights. *Click the headlines in any of the stories below to read the full features.*
(all below graphics by Justin Markert)
// 1386 Detroit Rd, Cleveland, OH
"I want my stuff to connect to [Charles] Bukowski or [John] Updike, or any of these in a way, so you can see a lineage, as a way to write yourself in, to identify with your heroes,” says Washington. “Do it that way instead of just walking around with a Bukowski t-shirt. I’m going to try to crack a sentence better than his, funnier than his. And if I can’t, at least I tried. That’s what you’ve got to do to motivate yourself as a young person. What about when you get older? You start a bookstore. And you hope they’ll listen to you. They’ll buy stuff or they won’t.”
Bly points out, “Or they’ll make stuff.”
“I’m hoping that they’ll make stuff.”
// Mobile + Opening in Winter 2013 1432 W. 29th St. Ohio City, OH 44113
“I think there’s a major connection between the way we want to live and what we want to present. People are somewhat intrigued that Molly’s an artist and there is definitely an association between food and art,” Joseph says. “But also from a health standpoint, I want to be able to drum for hours. Just the other day someone joked to us, ‘kale does a drummer good.’ There’s a connection between health and being able to do what you want in life.”
“There’s a lot of muscle, sweat, and hope that goes into this. I feel anyone opening up their first small business could say the same thing,” Pamela adds. “The most rewarding thing is people coming up to us and saying they feel great after trying something we’ve made. Our vegan night? It’s 365 days.”
“When I started doing more projects I was guilty of thinking, ‘I have no idea what I’m doing. I want to paint this table; do I buy latex, do I buy oil paint?’ And I would get locked-up,” she says. “Finally I said, just do it. Quit talking about it and just do it. Get inspired, whether it’s something you see in a magazine or on a blog, and just try it.”
Cleveland Culinary Kitchen & Launch: Chill Pop Shop & Mason's Creamery
Elizabeth Pryor: People need to know it’s not going to be easy. If you know that going in, you’re already going to be set up for success. We’re having a blast but it is immense work. And it’s hard work. For every step forward there are three steps back. But you just have to be resilient and find ways past those obstacles and keep going.
Maggie Pryor: It’s been invaluable to be in a space like this where you can connect with other small business owners and food entrepreneurs, even bouncing ideas off Jesse and Helen because they’re at a similar stage.
Jesse Mason: I’ve been self-employed for a long time and my best advice is just to do it. If you like doing it, have the confidence. There’s never going to be the ‘right’ time, there never will be for anything, you just have to take the plunge.
Helen Qin: You’re going to figure it out, and you’re going to just do it, and it’s not going to be perfect and it’s not going to be the way you want it, but you’re going to get it done. It’s just about doing something you feel good about.
“As a nuclear tech for 13 years, money wasn’t an issue. But when you walk away from that, when you take that leap of faith, you don’t know where you’re going to land,” says Hale. “But it’s a leap of faith that’s had its challenges and still does. It’s not a walk in the park starting from the ground up. My advice for anything who wants to do it, just take the leap. The money will always follow.”