An Early Christmas Gift
Rhode Islanders got a bit of good news this season when the University of Rhode Island announced that they will be opening a new site for the Rhode Island Small Business Development Center on Jan. 2, 2014. Before the official opening, they hosted an event at the State House to celebrate the exciting development for small business owners and future entrepreneurs.
Through a $574,000 grant, URI will be the new home to the Small Business Development Center. It’s a natural fit, given the shared interests of academia and small business. Both hope to harness a strong workforce that fuels small business development, and this collaboration will help Rhode Island capitalize on new opportunities.
As co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus, I want to ensure that businesses and educators are able to work together more closely to give students the skills they need to succeed. This new facility at URI will help further these partnerships and will allow Rhode Island’s small businesses to grow and prosper here at home.
Small businesses are a powerful force in Rhode Island that will help drive our economic prosperity. Last year, the Small Business Administration served nearly 2,000 clients in the Ocean State. I look forward to building on last year’s successes and helping more businesses to hire, expand and serve our community.
Garden City in Full Bloom
Kim Losey, who co-owns ModMama with Julie Navarro, helps Rep. Langevin pick out a gift for Christmas.
When I was a kid, my parents owned a store, Kay’s Newport, in Garden City Center. It was a busy shopping center, and my parents loved being a part of that community of local business owners. Garden City Center is still busy and popular today, but for someone who grew up there it’s barely recognizable – and it turns out that’s a good thing.
Under the direction of The Wilder Companies and General Manager Joe Koechel, the center has transformed. Large box stores are being divided into mid-sized and smaller specialty shops, and vacant spaces are quickly filling up with locally owned businesses and several newcomers in the Rhode Island market, like the Container Store, which is slated to open up in the spring of 2014. New names are being added to the tenant roster regularly, and I visited some of the shops for the first time.
Community events and business tours are so important to me, because they help shape my work in Washington. The business owners I met at Garden City Center were vocal advocates for the policies they support, especially Mel Baker and Brenda Bedrick of MEL & Me. We discussed the Marketplace Fairness Act, and how important it is to level the playing field between mom and pop shops and retailers with a significant online presence. We need to support small business as much as big business, and encourage entrepreneurs to open up shop in Rhode Island. They are making an investment in our state’s economy, so we owe it to them to enact policies that are business friendly.
I am grateful to Julie Navarro and Kim Losey, the co-owners of mod mama, not only for being so welcoming but also for helping me get my Christmas shopping done. ModMama is a clothing and toy store for babies and young children, and Julie and Kim showed off some of their best products. As they helped me shop, they told me about leaving behind their former careers in order to make their dream of opening a kids store come true.
Our shop small tour continued at Sweenor’s Chocolates and Pinkberry, two stores with the same mission of creating delicious desserts, but with different backstories. Sweenor’s is a family-owned business in Rhode Island, with a reputation for high-quality products. The smell when you walk into the shop is irresistible (as were the chocolate turtles I went home with). Pinkberry is a national frozen yogurt chain, but the Garden City location is owned locally by Brian Galvin. I thoroughly enjoyed sampling that product, too. One of the best things about Pinkberry is that Brian is so committed to the community. His store does many fundraisers for local non-profits, and he really sets the example for responsible corporate citizens.
The day wrapped up at Providence Diamond Company, where the Marketplace Fairness Act came up again. Like many small businesses, Providence Diamond Company goes up against the “giants” in their industry, and they just want the chance to compete, fair and square. Owner Peter Pritsker has been a Garden City Center resident for quite some time, and though his store does well, he is looking for representation that understands the needs of small business owners. I try to be that representative, and I encourage all business owners and entrepreneurs to consider my office a resource. I always keep the experiences of my parents in mind when it comes to economic policy. Their story resonates with me, as do the stories of Peter, Brian and all of the other hardworking Rhode Islanders I meet.
Winning Big at the arcade
I have wanted to see the arcade providence ever since it reopened this past fall, and my trip there certainly did not disappoint. Owner Evan Granoff and the Northeast Collaborative Architects did an incredible job restoring the building to its former glory, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing their vision firsthand. The building evokes the classic architecture that Rhode Islanders have long associated with the arcade, and the downstairs shops are a wonderful mix of local artists and entrepreneurs.
Evan could have filled the space with any number of businesses, and the demand from large, chain stores was certainly there. Instead, he decided to make the arcade an incubator of sorts, perfect to promote the work of small businesses that make up the foundation of our state’s economy.
It was a chilly, rainy morning when I went, but the bright retail floor offers a welcoming space to do holiday shopping off the beaten path. Evan brought me on a tour to each of the open shops, and I was pleased to see that many of them are owner-operated. I got to meet jewelry designer Jessica Ricci, who was giddy after just making a major sale to a woman looking for Christmas gifts for her employees. At That Guy, a studio filled with reclaimed wood pieces and refinished furniture, the owner’s wife was more than happy to show me the care that goes into each piece. She was watching over the store for the morning, within eyesight of the Luniac Glamour salon across the way that she co-owns (she also explained to me what a blowout is, so you learn something new every day). I saw interesting accessories at Ntrendsic, African artwork at Adirah, the work of Rhode Island fashion designers at nude and the unique vintage pieces at Carmen & Ginger and Southwest Passage. We capped off the visit at New Harvest Coffee & Spirits. It was too early to sample the collection of single-malt scotches, but the hot chocolate was delicious. Upstairs, micro-loft apartments are ready to be rented, and the waiting list is extensive. I’m not surprised that the arcade is in high demand for businesses and potential residents alike.
This redeveloped space definitely does justice to the building’s storied history. It is the same landmark – the nation’s oldest indoor shopping mall – that so many of us shopped in as children. To see it come alive again is exciting for me and for our state.
Not So Shady Spot
Rhode Island Future Editor Bob Plain shows Rep. Langevin around the Mill at Shady Lea in North Kingstown.
I love Rhode Island. Everybody knows everybody, and while that may seem odd to outsiders, it makes for a wonderful experience as an elected official. My office sent out an advisory about two planned “shop small” tours, first at the arcade providence and then at Garden City Center. Not long after, Bob Plain, the editor of RIFuture.org, tipped me off to another shop small story right in my backyard. I had never heard of The Mill at Shady Lea, but Bob offered to show me around, and I am glad I took him up on the offer.
Located just off Tower Hill Road in North Kingstown, The Mill at Shady Lea was built in the early 19th century to manufacture fabric. In the 20th century, the space – long since expanded – came to manufacture metal staples. Its occupants today look quite different, and the mill is full of designers, artisans and craftsmen. Each room showcases a new talent and offers new unique shopping opportunities for visitors interested in sculpture, paintings, photography, jewelry, clothing, glassware and even custom-made guitars. It is a great place to buy unique gifts made by Rhode Island artists, and those artists have formed a supportive, creative community. Really, it doesn’t get much more “buy local” than at Shady Lea.
Thanks to Bob for letting me know about this hidden gem, and thanks to all the artists for reminding me why it’s so important to buy local.
A Tale of Retail
The timing was perfect for a visit from the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce. With plans to stop by small businesses through the weekend and into Monday, talking with industry leaders about how best to support retail business was a great way to gear up for an exciting series of visits.
Paul DeRoche and Janet Raymond from the Chamber were gracious enough to join me in my District Office to present me with a Hero of Main Street Award from the National Retail Federation. The award is given to Members of Congress who are strong supporters of the American retail industry, which is the nation’s largest private sector employer.
In particular, the award this year recognizes those of us who believe in and support the Marketplace Fairness Act. The Marketplace Fairness Act gives states the authority to require online and catalog retailers to collect sales tax. Not surprisingly, I have heard from many small business owners in Rhode Island that this legislation is essential for them to compete. Many mom and pop stores do not have a sophisticated online presence, so they rely on in-store traffic for sales. If a customer can avoid paying taxes by buying online from a national chain, though, they often will make that choice. The Marketplace Fairness Act would live up to its name – creating a fairer, more even playing field for all retailers.
We want to encourage entrepreneurs to dream big and to open shop in Rhode Island, and the Marketplace Fairness Act is just one more way we can do that.