The Frustration That Is Small Business in a Big Business World.

I am hugely frustrated.

For awhile now I have had this idea in my head that I would like to have a workspace of some sort that is live and in-person.  Right now I run Milo and Molly out of a small bedroom in the upstairs of our house, across the hall from Greta and down the hall from Gus.  This makes potential custom-order client meetings awkward because my studio is in my house and not separated off.  I also really love the idea of bringing handmade goodness into my community in the form of a small shop, while also offering classes or workshops or workspace for others like me.  I have called several empty spaces and have even gone to look at a few to no avail.

Overwhelmingly the stumbling block is money.  I am not running a huge businesses and therefore don't have bucket of cash flowing in, nor do I have a benefactor ready to help us out, and there is no way I'd take out a loan on such an endeavor.  However, even places that could possibly be okay are either weirdly set-up spaces with no place to go to the bathroom, or they're falling apart and/or dirty, or no one is going to be able to park there.  In my town there is a main drag along which there are many, many chain establishments, and in between are small independently-owned buildings.  I have called over a dozen places and most people are very friendly and are interested in the concept, but then they lay out the rent and lease agreements and I realize just how not interested these landlords are in getting small local businesses into their buildings.  And therefore, I can drive up and down this strip and tick off over a dozen empty buildings.

Yesterday I had a phone call with a pipe-dream building.  A beautiful brick building with black detail and lovely landscaping now sits empty because a national chain moved out.  The building is 4500 square feet with back rooms and storage spaces and bathrooms.  It's an enormous and well-cared for space and I understood before even calling that there wasn't going to be any way I'd be able to take on this space, but I really wanted to know how much it was going to cost just for kicks.  And as I was speaking with the very nice real estate gentleman, he inquired about out concept for the building, and then he flatly informed me that his clients would never rent to someone like me having had two national chains in the building so far.  That a starter business like mine would need an "incubation space" from which to grow and establish itself.  To try spaces in this place or that, which are actually the small, weird, and dirty ones.  I felt as though I was getting a "little lady" speech, though he really wasn't being condescending to me- he was just telling me the way it is.

And the way it is sucks.  I know people whom I could pool crafty resources with and we could make an amazing space out of a building like that, or any building on the strip, but they're all too expensive, and rather than see something productive and interesting for the community be put into those spaces, the landlords are more concerned with the amount of rent they think they should be getting.  They don't seem to consider the fact that a small, start-up business won't be able to take on several thousand dollars every month and commit to three years in a space when you don't know how the first month will go.  (I did think about Kickstarter, but I don't think anyone would pledge $120,000 for a co-op shop.)  It's frustrating to know that there are empty spaces perfectly suitable and they're still out of reach.  There has to be a way for small business to make some headway in the mainstream marketplace- people are becoming more and more interested in purchasing handmade and local goods, but the overall business community isn't set up to support it.

So the pipe dream will remain a pipe dream for awhile, which is fine- it's still exciting to think about and maybe one day it will come to be.  And for now I will work out of my cozy little bedroom space and design dream offices in my head.

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In case you missed it: what could be and office space!


  1. I completely understand this frustration both in terms of studio space or retail space. We've looked at various locations for me to have a studio, and they're on either aide of the spectrum-- really nice and way out of our price range or a total dump. Retail spaces are even more difficult to find, and we'd need an investor or we'd have to take out a loan. I can't fathom doing that considering we're still paying off student loan debt. The crazy part? Andrew and I actually had a conversation about moving to my hometown because everything is so cheap, and they just started converting an old warehouse into a subsidized artist lofts and studios community. Of course, we'd never actually move there, but we just don't get how a tiny town can do that, but a city like Baltimore doesn't seem to have their shit together...haha. Anyway...I hear you on the frustrations! Keep looking! You never know what might pop up. At least that what we telling ourselves.

  2. Paige @ Little NostalgiaJanuary 13, 2015 at 9:23 AM

    How disappointing that the landlord won't even consider your guys. That completely sucks. At least the real estate agent was honest with you; I feel like some of them would've tried to get you on the hook anyway just to make themselves look good for finding a "potential renter."

    I just read Heidi's comment, too, and I think that a less suburban might actually be a great place to look. I think Goshen can make something like that possible because it IS so cheap to live/work there. Are there any small-ish CT towns that are kind of centrally located for you and your parters in crime? You'd need it to be a place want to people go, obviously, yet small enough to find some cheaper rentals.

  3. This really sucks and I'm really sorry for that. Several years ago I had a brick and mortar business in a physical location. The odds were against me because I was a brand new business, minimal (read: no) client base and I was just starting out. I found a commercial real estate broker (because you don't pay them the property manager does!) and I sat down with him told him what I was looking for, the feel I was looking for, as well as, my budget. For that situation it was the absolute best thing for me because everything was out there first hand so there weren't any surprises for what the space would be used for or what it was going to cost. Since the broker is in the business he knows a lot about the management companies and owners so he knew what expectations would be there. Maybe finding someone like that would be helpful and could restore a little hope? Bigger chains maybe have more "promise" to a lot of building owners but honestly, "promise" in that means just means money. There are a lot of people that are willing to take a gamble on a small business though. Smaller outskirt areas will probably have lower overhead but honestly girl, if this is your dream - where there is a will there is a way - it might just be finding the right person to lead you to that place!! Keeping my fingers crossed for you!!!!!!

  4. while I don't have clients coming to my house, I do have an art studio out back, but mostly because I have so many supplies, lol. But I do have a pipe dream of having a B&M store in our little town. They just updated the main downtown street, and are looking for businesses there. if we dream, we need to dream big. :0)



  5. What's crazy about that is that they would rather let it sit empty because of what they COULD get on a potential renter than let someone in to use the space. That is frustrating. I admire your persistence, though! I think some type of space for classes, etc., would be really cool. Something OKC has that I think is neat is a "Keep It Local" card you can buy for $10, and all these different businesses/restaurants/etc. are part of it. If you go to these places and show your card, you get a free drink or a half-off appetizer or 10% off a purchase or something. It encourages people to shop at local businesses and is a way to even find really cool shops you might not otherwise know about.

  6. You're exactly right- it's more frustrating to see the empty spaces stay empty because people around here are so greedy on the rent. Think of what could be done with some of those buildings! But I love the Local card- such a great idea! That really would help keep local businesses in the loop because people want to use the deals and get their money's worth, and like you said, maybe find someplace new to shop.

  7. Even an art studio out back would be great. I'm trying to con my husband into finishing the space over the garage for me. :) Dream big! Go check out some of those buildings!

  8. I know I'd likely have better luck in one of the cities, but right now that's just not feasible in terms of time, and a lot of the towns where rents might be cheaper are not going to support and artists' space like that. So, for now we just wait and see and hopefully something will open up at the right time in the right place.

  9. Hartford actually was offering free rent grants to help revitalize downtown, but I don't have the time or the energy or the desire to try and get anything going in the city right now, and many of the surrounding towns aren't the type to support a makers' space. So we'll see. But it's just like, okay, so just let the building sit empty....good idea.

  10. Thanks for the advice about the commercial broker- that might be the way to go. I just think it's silly holding out for someone who *might* take the building and do something with it and just letting it sit there until the money shows up. Some more research, some more time...if I really want it, one day it will happen. :)

  11. I do totally agree - but don't lose hope. There are places that WILL do it and honestly, maybe it's a blessing in disguise. If he already had a negative attitude about non-corps (which HELLO do shut down too!!), then he would probably be micromanaging and breathing down your neck. So, take it as a little hurdle that saved you from a bigger headache. At least with a commercial broker everything is out on the table, and the commercial manager of the location pays them - not you. :)

  12. Kristen,
    I just wanted to say thank you for replying to my comments over the past (almost) year. I just today noticed/discovered my inbox at the top of the page. sheesh. lol