Thursday, November 3, 2011

Special “Small Business” Series: The story of Bar Marco, Part 1

Bar Marco will open shortly in this
wonderful old firehouse, constructed
in the 1860's.
On a recent trip to Pittsburgh for a client, I was fortunate to connect with a group of four business partners opening up an exciting new bar/restaurant called Bar Marco in the up and coming Strip District, a gritty area northeast of downtown Pittsburgh historically known as a produce wholesale district.
Bobby Fry, along with his partners Justin Steel, Kevin Cox, and Michael Kreha, all share an infectious energy combined with a strong commitment to their vision. Bobby in particular also has a deep interest in community and economic development. Having left New York and spent a few years on Wall Street, he returned to Pittsburgh for a variety of reasons, and ended up teaming up with old friends from high school to pursue the dream – a European-style wine and tapas bar.

Why is Bobby’s story important? Because these are exactly the kinds of businesses and business owners that make commercial districts tick. They not only give back to the community, but their businesses become the kind of places that drive repeat visitation. They also set a tone for other business owners and elevate the overall perception of retail and restaurant offerings overall - which ultimately helps all district businesses.

In less than a year, Bobby has found a seat at the table, becoming a board member at Neighbors in the Strip, a small non-profit dedicated to promoting economic development in the district. He and his partners are also committed to sourcing their products from Pittsburgh area vendors. The economic impact of these decisions is a small drop in the bucket, but if replicated by other business owners in a district, is precisely what keeps the local economic engine going…and growing.

So how do we make sure our districts are positioned to attract the Bar Marco’s of the world? This series will help us unpack that question, as we follow the story of Bar Marco and use it to explore the various ways commercial district entities can support and facilitate the growth of similar neighborhood businesses.

I started by asking Bobby what made him choose the Strip over other neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. He replied that initially the area wasn’t on his radar. They were looking at another neighborhood, but one night one of the his partners was chatting with someone who mentioned that the Firehouse, a well known restaurant in an old 1860’s firehouse, was closing and that space was soon going to be on the market.

How important is data, really?
The Strip District wasn’t on their radar – but once they knew the space available they took a closer look at the area as a location. They needed to move quickly – and what they knew about The Strip was enough to help them decide to forge ahead. According to Bobby, two key metrics played a role.
  • Transit access was excellent. Penn Avenue is a busy street that leads to downtown. Not only that, but they are five blocks from downtown and have a small dedicated parking lot to boot. “It doesn’t get better than that” says Bobby.
  • New high-income development completed or in the pipeline. A quick drive through  The Strip District confirms what locals already know, the jump in residential housing means a growing, and captive, market...just the kind of folks who might patronize a European-style wine bar.
So with some basic information about the market, some familiarity with the District, and a strong gut instinct, they were off…signing leases, getting financing (more on that later!), starting construction, and basically turning their concept into a concrete reality.

What are the take-aways here? While there is not much you can do in the short-run about your district’s transportation access, Bobby’s feedback makes a strong case for keeping track of and mapping new development and construction in the pipeline. If a retailer wanted to locate in your district, would they be able to find this information on your website?

What can a district management entity do to help?

Bar Marco Owner and Architect
Michael Kreha hard at work

While small business owners can go it alone, it always helps to have help. And that is where the local commercial district management entity comes into play. Becky Rodgers, Executive Director of Neighbors in the Strip has been a tremendous asset, says Bobby. “She is a champion for local business. When we got here, we were introduced to her by our landlord, and she immediately worked on making e-introductions for us to people who own lofts and residential buildings in the neighborhood”. Working with Becky, Bar Marco recently held a charity event that resulted in a packed house – even before they had officially opened. This kind of word-of-mouth marketing is a tremendous asset, it helps build buzz and is setting up Bar Marco for success down the road.

Bar Marco is set to open in a few weeks, in the meantime, the construction dust continues to fly as Bobby and his partners work furiously towards their official opening. The determined look on partner Michael Kreha’s face says it all…

Bar Marco is on Facebook. Be sure to "Friend" them to keep up with their story....

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for share this post I also share with you something hope you like my post. A Lease for More than Two Years: Getting stuck with a long-term lease is a terrible burden for all small business owners. If you need to break the lease for any reason you will have to keep paying on the lease until the landlord can rent the space to someone else. Thanks
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