We've had the privilege of being invited to speak at the Downtown Lima, Inc. annual meeting a few times, and it's really interesting to read the similarities between the two speeches, even though I hadn't read the speech my co-founder gave in 2003 until today! The scripts do not match word for word what we spoke on those days (I know I threw in a funny story when I thought I was losing the crowd), but they come pretty close. The first speech was given by my father, and co-founder, Greg Stover.
I've highlighted the crux of each message in bold & italics, if you want to skip to the important parts.
Downtown Lima Assoc. Wed. November 12, 2003
Good Evening (thank you, Fred for the intro) I’m Greg Stover, one of the owners of the Meeting Place on Market. We are a Gourmet coffee house/café on the corner of Market & West St.
I want to thank Downtown Lima Assoc. & Fred Barrington for the invitation tonight. Although, from my experience, speaking after a good meal and a long day of work is a pretty dangerous combination. (no sleeping!!) At least I’m first on the agenda…and I’ll make it short!
The Jennifer Story
We opened our doors May 1st of this year and have been very pleased with the results. We’re exceeding our initial projections and are working hard to maintain that trend. We are also receiving excellent customer support from the downtown community…such as events at the civic center, Wingate Hotel, Lima Symphony and the Arts. We will continue to be innovative in our business approach.
Our goals were twofold, (1) we wanted to be downtown!! And (2) we wanted to establish a business that was a destination point. More than just a place to frequent for food, we wanted to be community oriented. We felt and still do feel that the downtown business district has enormous potential. Our initial research revealed that approximately 3500 people work downtown daily, 180,000 people attend Civic Center events annually and 15,692 travel through the downtown area daily. Pretty impressive huh!!! (Chamber figures)
When Fred approached me regarding speaking tonight, I began to analyze the process we had to go through to be able to launch our business. From the time we first began to implement our plan. The roadblocks we encountered (and yes, there were a few), to the broad amount of support we received from the business community.
I wanted to be able to zero in on the one “golden” package or gov’t. program or incentive or ‘something’ that would make the difference…the ‘thing’ that would assist business in locating downtown Lima. Unfortunately, there isn’t just one ‘thing’ out there that is a panacea for starting your business. As many of you know, starting a business from scratch is an arduous, time consuming, expensive proposition! There are permits, rules, regulations, committees and they don’t always move at the desired pace. And then there’s the RISK! Factor.
I recalled, hearing the term ‘risk’ being used many times during initial stages of developing our business. Usually it was synonymous with MONEY! And interestingly enough, it was mentioned in conversations with people and organizations whose task was related to economic development. Words like ‘too risky’ a venture and ‘too risky’ for downtown, small business is ‘too risky’, not enough assets etc., etc. WOW…wait a minute…what criteria is used to determine whether one is suitable for economic development assistance? A larger company? With more assets? Would that eliminate the risk factor??
So, I asked the question, if we were Enron or Worldcom or maybe even Phillips, would that qualify us and eliminate the risk??
Then, I decided dust off Webster’s and check out this ‘risk’ word and see if maybe I was misunderstanding it’s meaning.
Risk: the chance of injury, damage or loss
Well, ok…but what does it mean? a chance of? so, I looked up the word chance as well.
Chance (chans) 1.the way thinks happen without apparent cause 2.an unpredictable event 3.risk or gamble 4.a ticket in a lottery 5.an opportunity 6. a possibility or probability
Hmmm…so, a risk is not a guarantee (cause) and it can be unpredictable, a little bit of a gamble (we can rule out the lottery ticket) but it’s also an opportunity, possibility or probability.
It seems to me, by definition, risk is not limited merely by the size or scope of an organization (see Enron)
In my humble opinion, the economic development plan needs to be more balanced. Larger companies will not be willing to invest in downtowns unless there is adequate numbers of customer flow. Small, entrepreneurial businesses will lead the way to increased development. Once more people are downtown and traffic flow increases, then larger, more established entities follow.
The current method of distribution of economic funds based on current financial criteria eliminates most start-up businesses and favors the larger more established firms in an attempt to eliminate the risk. A small business is required to submit the same forms as a Ford or BP Chemical. The balance sheet doesn’t look too impressive for a start-up!
In conclusion, we have been encouraged and supported by the business community. Jerry Good of the Lima, Allen County Economic development was very helpful and encouraging in assisting us with the financial quest, and Fred Barrington of Downtown Lima has assisted us in any way he can.
We are in the process of expanding our catering business and establishing an online store for our coffee and gift items. Also, the development of small business meeting and business areas are under development. I believe Downtown Lima is on the verge of robust economic growth. We are excited about the possibilities and ready to do our part in this revitalization.
Downtown Lima Speech 3-2-23
Thank you for inviting me to speak today. This year The Meeting Place on Market celebrates its 20th anniversary. Around twenty years ago this month we were installing our espresso machine and learning how to properly brew a shot of espresso. Tonight, I want to share a little bit about our startup story, what we’ve gained from being an entrepreneur in downtown Lima, and our plans for the future. I also want to recommend how we can continue to support entrepreneurship.
Downtown Lima is an important part of our startup story. When I first decided to explore opening a coffee shop, Jay Smith, who was the director of Downtown Lima at the time, was one of the first people I talked to. He took me on a tour of properties in Lima and we discussed the business plan. He even gave me the idea to host an artist gallery wall and showcase local artists, which we have been doing since we opened. We have hosted between over 150 art exhibits over the years.
I’ve been blogging about our startup story since it is our 20th anniversary, but there is one story I haven’t shared yet. While we were getting the business setup I was very busy and very stressed, so I didn’t stop at the drug store to refill a prescription. Well, 9 months later, our youngest, Luke arrived. We tell him that he saved me by making me chill out. I couldn’t juggle all those balls in the air anymore, so I just gave up and relaxed. It can be very stressful to start a new business.
Downtown Lima was also the only entity to approve a loan for us based on the strength of our credit history and our business plan. Other organizations and banks rejected our plan, saying it was too risky to open that type of business in the downtown. While we were able to borrow from family and friends, DTL is the only organization to give us a formal loan during our early years. The revolving loan fund is one of the important things DTL does. It invests money in entrepreneur’s dreams, allowing them to become a reality, even without strong assets to back them up. I hope that fund continues to grow and continues to invest in small business.
So I want to say thank you. Thank you for believing in my and my family’s dream. Thank you for being a customer, an encourager, a promoter for The Meeting Place over the years.
When we pitched the business plan around town to various funders back in 2002 and 2003, we were told DTL was not a profitable place to do business. In some ways, they were right. There are more profitable places to do business, especially if your business is reliant on high volume walk in traffic. However, we have experienced other rich returns – social capital in the many friendships that we’ve developed through this downtown community, and increased connections with local organizations like the Civic Center, the Symphony, Artspace/Lima and Legacy Arts. There is value in this social capital and it has enriched my life.
We hope we have provided a return for our employees over the years. We count at least three marriages – both of my brothers worked at The Meeting Place for a time, and they each met their wives there. My brother Jim managed Sarah as a barista and they were married in 6 months. My brother Brett met Jade when she complained that we had closed early one night. He says it was love at first sight – they married the following year. One of our very first employees, Molly, came back to work for us during breaks and after college, met Ben, a student from out of town who worked for us part-time, and they are married today. The training, friendships, and experiences they gained – those types of returns can’t be measured.
To be honest, I was naïve when I opened a coffee shop that relied on food for a large part of its revenue. Even after four years of business school, I didn’t realize what many of our funders realized – the nature of the retail dine-in industry is that it has low profit margins and high overhead expenses. Unless you are creative in finding a way to avoid those pitfalls, there is high failure rate in the industry. It took me years to understand that. That’s why we have been changing our business model to one that is more sustainable and less reliant on in person sales.
Our current project is to expand our Coworking Center into the second floor of the building. In case you don’t know what coworking is, it is a space where anyone can join and have access to workspace and meeting space. Members can reserve a dedicated desk or a private office. Our current coworking center is almost maxed out, so we need the extra space. As far as we know, the second floor hasn’t been used since the 1980s, except for the not so secret music studio setup by Legacy Sounds. We have renderings of what the second floor could be – we plan to create a larger conference room, a lobby with sky light where people could work on their laptop or meet with clients, and 10 additional private offices with themes that tie into Lima’s history. We will also have a shared kitchen and break room with additional amenities like printers, wifi, presentation screens, etc. Renovations are slowly progressing. All Service Glass replaced all of our windows last month, and Lippincott Plumbing has replaced the original 1917 plumbing. Sprint Electric has upgraded the electricity – which was still plugged into the old knob and tube wiring. We do not yet have a expected completion date since we are funding it as we go.
I’m also excited to be a part of Legacy Arts. We just acquired our 501c3 non-profit status at the end of the last year, and we are planning another Legacy Arts Street Party on June 24th this year. We are awarding scholarships to encourage musicians, artists, and entrepreneurs to serve their community through their creative work. The LAB hosts live music events through out the year and is a hub for small business growth.
As I look back over the last 20 years, I feel a sense of excitement by the public that hasn’t been felt before. I have always been excited by the creativity and potential of downtown Lima. Independent shops and restaurants owned by local people, places like Nitza’s, The Bistro, Hoefeller, Hiatt and Clark, and Don Jenkins, all inspired me back in 2002. They made me believe that my idea could become a reality with enough hard work and passion. Since then places like Alter Ego Comics, Pointe of Joy, and Modo Media, and of course their owners, have supported and encouraged me and my family when times were tough. And I want to add… congratulations to Alter Ego Comics for their 20th year anniversary this year as well.
The reality is that the enthusiasm of those of us who believe in the downtown hasn’t always been shared by our greater community. I remember one survey a DTL committee completed on the perceptions of downtown Lima, in that survey the results showed that people were unenthusiastic about its potential – focusing instead on a perception of inaccessibility, crime, and a lack of knowledge about what we have to offer.
Thankfully that perception is better today. People are enthusiastic again. It’s an exciting time to be downtown.
Now is the time to embrace that enthusiasm and encourage the community to see us with fresh eyes. We have to be careful to preserve what is special about DTL – the quirky shops, independently owned businesses, local owners, people committed to making a difference in the downtown for the long term. There are three things I think we can do to help preserve our culture while encouraging growth.
First, small businesses are the lifeblood of our downtown. Small business owners take a risk in investing their own assets, with concerns about bankruptcy looming in the background. Small business owners hustle to make their businesses work each and every day. We must not let big projects, however welcome they are, take the focus off of the health and growth of small businesses in our downtown. We must continue to support small business owners through the revolving loan fund, helping them to find properties, and providing them with encouragement and support.
Second, we must make our downtown user friendly. People fear the unknown, and while we are used to navigating the one way streets and parking, people who drive in from the suburbs or the smaller towns are apprehensive. We need to do all we can to make them feel welcome. Extra signage, consistent parking policies, public lots instead of closed, private lots, those are all the little things we can do to make someone’s trip downtown more accessible.
Third, we must continue to attract new entrepreneurs who want to be connected to the community. While of course we love our local franchises and franchise owners such as Kewpee and Happy Daze, we don’t need absentee owners who see DTL as just one more market for their chain of shops or restaurants. We instead should support those people who have a vision and passion for a unique business that is connected to the community, like the Ohio Theatre, Perennial Glo Spa, and Vibe Coffeehouse.
Independent shops and restaurants and a startup culture that embraces entrepreneurs will keep DTL creative, quirky, and a one of a kind destination. It will attract more of our graduates to pursue entrepreneurship here versus elsewhere after graduation. It will inspire those who make Lima their home later in life to launch their dream here.
I am excited about the future of downtown Lima. Thank you.
- Jennifer Brogee
Left to right: Ruth Ann Stover, Jennifer Brogee, Greg Stover
Note: Originally published on jenniferbrogee.com