The city of Hazelwood is teaming up with Somera Road Inc., a New York-based commercial real estate firm, to award grants to local entrepreneurs.
The grants offer up to $10,000 for startup costs and free rent in the Village Square center, a retail property at Lindbergh and Interstate 270. The goal is to support local entrepreneurship, while revitalizing the commercial retail space.
To apply, visit the Village Square Small Business Grant website.
Becky Ahlvin, the community and economic development coordinator for the city of Hazelwood, said it’s good for the local economy and entrepreneurs.
“This is helping fill that niche of, 'How do we help the smaller businesses in our community?'” Ahlvin said. “How do we get them established and to become successful? How do we set them up to be a successful business in our community?”
The Village Square center was once seen as a premier location for retail and special events like concerts and art fairs. But in recent years, the retail property had been on a downward spiral. Ian Ross, founder of Somera Road Inc., said his company purchased the retail property in 2018 to redevelop and revitalize it.
“Retail centers really only work if the community wants them there,” Ross said. “ … So one way we found to really ensure that that matching of needs is met is by reaching out to the community to bring their own stores, their own needs into the property.”
Ross said what made the Village Square the right choice was that it had multiple uses, including office and retail components, as well as potential for industrial uses. But often times, small business owners lack the financial backing of a bank or their own personal capital to start their business. The grant, Ross said, allows entrepreneurs to take a risk and start their businesses with zero strings attached at Village Square.
“We want you here,” Ross said, “and we want you to be successful. And we believe in you. And we’re going to run through a process to vet out your idea. And if your idea is something we believe is viable, we’re going to give you that shot. We’re going to reduce that downside risk, and we’re going to bet on you to be successful here.”
The space will be rent-free to business owners initially. However, once they are able to turn a profit, the rent will be based on their percentage of sales.
Two or three entrepreneurs are expected to receive the grants. The deadline to apply is Feb. 28. Recipients will be chosen in a “Shark Tank” style competition in April.
Ahlvin said the grants will build on the strengths that Hazelwood already has.
“This will help spur more economic and business opportunities within Hazelwood for new businesses to come or for restaurants to come to try to bring in more of what our community is looking for to serve our community,” she said.