The City’s Economic Development Department’s incentive programs have allowed numerous small businesses to thrive.
By Diana Simeon
The Gentlemen’s Cave Luxury Barber Lounge, Picnic Hill Market Café, Domo Yakitori and Sushi, 3-19 Coffee … these are just some of the nearly 50 small businesses that have opened their doors in Shaker Heights over the past couple of years.
Talk to the owners of these and other new businesses – or expanding businesses, like Shaker Animal Hospital or Scorpacciata Pasta Co. – and you’ll learn about the years of work that go into making these dreams a reality. The City’s Economic Development Department works hard to support them. That support includes incentive programs. “Our mission is to support our local small business community, whether it’s attracting new businesses, helping businesses expand, or revitalizing our commercial districts,” explains Laura Englehart, the director of the City’s Economic Development Department.
The results of these efforts are a win-win-win. Entrepreneurs get the support they need to successfully open or expand. Residents get more shops, restaurants, and services to enjoy, and the City gets additional tax dollars while also diversifying its tax base.
“Really, our goal is to make Shaker Heights a great place to own and operate a business,” says Englehart. “This helps revitalize our business districts and diversify our tax base, so Shaker can continue to thrive in the decades to come.”
Partnering for Success
Prior to opening Picnic Hill Market Café, at 20621 Fairmount Boulevard in Fairmount Circle, Shawn Brown and Michael Miller were leading entirely different lives in California, where Brown worked as a lobbyist and Miller as a surgeon.
But the couple had long shared a dream of opening their own business. “We talked about it for like seven years,” says Brown, who grew up in Cleveland Heights. “We decided if it was going to happen, now was the time.”
So the duo came east. “My entire family is here,” says Brown. Also a factor: It’s simply more affordable to operate a business in Ohio, as compared to California. “We moved back in 2018 and it took a little over a year to open,” says Brown.
As its name suggests, Picnic Hill Market Café is a gourmet market and a full-service cafe. It’s also a meal kit delivery service called Picnic Fresh Home (think a locally owned Blue Apron).
From the get-go, Brown and Miller worked closely with the City’s Economic Development Department. “I was a lobbyist for 15 years and one of the things I learned was that the more people you get involved at the beginning, the better your chances of accomplishing your goal,” says Brown. “We did our best to involve them every step of the way.”
This included partnering with the City to secure Picnic Hill’s location in Fairmount Circle and navigating the City’s permitting and inspections processes for the build-out of the space (formerly a yoga studio). Picnic Hill was also a recipient of the City’s Storefront Renovation Program, which provides financial support to businesses for signage and other exterior improvements.
More recently, Brown and Miller have been working with the Department on a Bingo card-inspired marketing campaign to encourage residents to patronize local businesses.
“Shaker has been amazingly helpful,” says Brown. “Whatever we’ve asked for, they’ve done.” Last summer, this included a regular Saturday BBQ. “They helped us figure out how to get the BBQ up and running, including some new outdoor seating,” says Brown.
Visit picnichillmarketcafe.com to learn more, including about regular events like Picnic Hill’s popular Drag Brunch and live music events, peruse the menu, or sign up for the meal-kit delivery program.
Storefront Renovation Program
Walk into The Gentlemen’s Cave Luxury Barber Lounge and you can’t help but be wowed. The completely renovated space is sleek, stylish, and decidedly masculine, offering its clientele a full-service barbershop, plus services like waxings, facials, massages, even MANicures and pedicures. In addition, a well-appointed members-only lounge offers a fully stocked bar, a pool table, a fireplace, and plenty of comfortable seating for members to kick back and relax.
“We’re really offering an experience,” says Lozell Siler, who launched The Gentlemen’s Cave in 2018 together with his wife, Maiya Jones-Siler, and cousin – and master barber – Antonio Siler. The business opened in the Van Aken District at 20306 Chagrin Boulevard in early 2020.
“Men really don’t have a space to get away when they are stressed out,” says Maiya. “And when our clients realize this is all for them, they love it.”
Services are provided a la carte, or clients can sign up for one of five membership packages, which include VIP access to the lounge and a selection of weekly grooming services. The lounge is also available as a private event space.
The partners were the recipient of a grant from the City’s Storefront Renovation Program, which seeks to help businesses with exterior renovations and signage. For The Gentlemen’s Cave, this included a complete overhaul of the façade, including new signage and the floor-to-ceiling glass windows and doors that let natural light flood the space.
“When you say luxury, people take that word literally, so our storefront has to match,” says Lozell. “The Storefront Renovation Program really allowed us to get creative and put our own touch on the building.”
This is exactly how the Storefront Renovation Program is meant to work. The program reimburses building or business owners up to 50 percent of the cost for new signage (not to exceed $3,000) or up to 50 percent of the cost of a new façade (not to exceed $15,000). Fifteen businesses in Shaker have received Storefront Renovation grants since 2016.
“The goal is to help improve the appearance of Shaker’s commercial districts and encourage investment in the facades and street presence in the City, which in turn improves our availability of commercial spaces that are well cared for, all while supporting local business,” explains Englehart. The City commits up to $50,000 a year to the program. The City also retains a design specialist to provide technical assistance and design support to participating property and business owners. For the past two years, Shaker-owned, home-based business Gibbon Architecture has provided these services for the program.
For The Gentlemen’s Cave, the renovated storefront has been key. “The experience starts at the front door,” says Maiya. “This was really important for our business.”
Lozell couldn’t agree more, “People tell us all the time that they drove by and decided to come in to see what it’s all about because of the way it looks.”
Learn more about The Gentlemen’s Cave Luxury Barber Lounge, including a menu of services, at thegentlemenscave.com.
SBA Shaker Partnership Loan
Pooja Patel was working in one of Ohio’s largest chiropractic practices in Mansfield when she happened to attend a Beer Garden at the Van Aken District with her husband, Sagar Patel, a psychologist at Shaker Heights High School.
“It was awesome,” Patel recalls. “It felt like the kind of community I wanted to practice in.” Patel had been restless in her Mansfield office for some time; after some soul searching, and talking to other chiropractors who had the kind of practice she dreamed of, she decided to make the move to Shaker Heights.
She credits the SBA Shaker Partnership Loan program with providing the capital she needed to open her new business, Core Life Chiropractic, located at 20134 Van Aken Boulevard in Shaker Plaza (in the Van Aken District), two years ago.
The SBA Shaker Partnership Loan is a loan program created in partnership with Cuyahoga County and the Small Business Administration (SBA). It’s available to small business owners who qualify for an SBA loan.
“Applicants must work with a Small Business Development Center to be recommended for the program,” explains Englehart. “You also have to be opening or expanding in Shaker Heights and doing tenant improvement work or adding equipment.”
The City helps to secure the loan from an SBA approved lender by contributing up to 15 percent (not to exceed $50,000 typically) up front. The City and County’s contribution is forgivable, though the business owner must meet certain milestones.
“Basically, the City earns the money back through income tax income revenue produced by the business,” says Englehart. This process typically takes 3-5 years.
The program has been tremendously successful in drawing businesses to Shaker Heights, especially to the Van Aken District. “Since 2014, we’ve made 12 loans, which have created 94 full-time jobs and 145 part-time jobs,” says Englehart. In addition to Core Life, recipients have included Spice for Life, Nature’s Oasis, Master Marr’s Taekwon Do, Around the Table Yarns, Banter, and Luster, among others.
“For someone like me who didn’t have anything coming into it, the Partnership Loan program made the difference,” says Patel.
Today, Core Life is a busy, successful practice and Patel has been so happy in Shaker that she and her husband recently purchased a house in the City.
“Being in Shaker, I just knew I belonged here,” says Patel.
Learn more about Core Life Chiropractic, which treats patients ages newborn and up, at corelifechiro.com.
SIDEBAR: City Teams with VAD to Support Early-Stage and Underrepresented Entrepreneurs
Opening a business isn’t easy, especially in an upscale shopping area like the Van Aken District. For early-stage and underrepresented entrepreneurs it’s especially challenging.
“Access to capital has always been a barrier to opening a new business, and that’s particularly true for this group of entrepreneurs,” says Laura Englehart, the City’s Director of Economic Development. “These entrepreneurs also often don’t have access to the technical expertise that helps you to grow a business successfully.”
That’s where the new Van Aken District Entrepreneurial Initiative comes in. The program, which was launched last summer, offers early-stage entrepreneurs – especially people of color, women, and all underrepresented entrepreneurs – the opportunity to showcase their ideas, products, and services within the Van Aken District.
“In addition to existing outdoor pop-up opportunities, we constructed two new stalls in the Market Hall for shorter term rental opportunities – one for retail, called The Corner, and one for food preparation,” says Jason Russell, general manager for the Van Aken District.
Both stalls offer entrepreneurs the opportunity to test their business ideas with visitors to the District. The food stall will showcase a single vendor at a time; the retail stall will be a curated collection of vendors.
RMS, which owns and operates the District, also has partnered with the City and the Small Business Development Center at the Urban League of Greater Cleveland to provide wrap-around support for these entrepreneurs.
“This will include business plan development, marketing support, as well as budgeting support as these entrepreneurs use these short-term leasing opportunities to refine and improve their business models,” explains Englehart. “It’s an excellent opportunity to have a customer-facing opportunity that would not have otherwise been available to them.”