**Article from Fresh Water Cleveland by Karin Connelly Rice**
Businesses like Old Brooklyn Cheese, City Diner, The Noun, and Vino Veritas Winery are just a few that have popped up in Old Brooklyn in the last 16 months—with several more including Lilly Handmade Chocolates, Atmoscapture, and Metropolitan Coffee set to join their ranks soon. Now, thanks to Cleveland Chain Reaction, five more businesses will set up shop this year.
This morning, on Fox 8’s “Kickin’ It with Kenny” morning segments, officials announced that Old Brooklyn will be the location of this year’s business competition. Old Brooklyn beat out Midtown, Shaker Square/Larchmere, and Collinwood to be the investment neighborhood.
“We’re excited about it because it builds off the already-existing momentum of forward progress we’ve made over the last few years,” says Jeff Verespej, executive director of Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation (OBCDC). He cites Drink Bar and Grill and Cake Royale as companies that spurred the more-recent arrivals like Sabor Miami and Coffee, Coffee, Coffee.
Building on the success of last year’s installment, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress (CNP) is partnering with the Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE), GlazenUrban, and JumpStart to launch this second season of the economic development project. Modeled after LeBron James’ 2016 CNN reality show Cleveland Hustles, Chain Reaction is designed to create jobs, investment, and prosperity in Cleveland’s neighborhoods while providing education and information for entrepreneurs and aspiring business owners.
“Old Brooklyn has really maintained itself over the past year,” says Jeff Kipp, director of neighborhood marketing for CNP. “A lot of good forces have come together, and we’ve really seen a lot of momentum there.”
Five investors have committed to investing up to $100,000 each in local small businesses that are scaling up. Collectively, the selected businesses that open physical spaces during Chain Reaction will bring jobs, real estate investment, and additional economic activity to the winning city neighborhood. So far, five to 10 spaces ranging from 600 to 8,000 square feet have been identified within the neighborhood as potential spots (with more in the works).
“Chain Reaction was created to facilitate a stronger relationship between local small businesses, private investment, and city neighborhoods,” explains Kipp. “Through our collaborative efforts, the partners view Chain Reaction as an efficient way to positively impact a neighborhood’s economic development without utilizing public subsidy.”
This year’s investors include Rick Blaszak, a lifelong Clevelander who has started several small businesses and wants to explore ways to attract young, creative entrepreneurs to the city’s urban neighborhoods; Bernie Moreno, an active community member who owns several businesses in Northeast Ohio (primarily in the auto dealership space); Eddie Ni, a 20-year resident, business owner, and active member of Cleveland’s Asian community; Vanessa Whiting, president at A.E.S. Management and active in Cleveland’s community development efforts; and Dan Zelman, a local entrepreneur and investor who is excited to help foster growth in the city’s neighborhoods.
“These are individuals who understand the value of this economic development project,” says Kipp. “They’re not doing it simply to get a return on their investments.”
CNP is now taking applications from small businesses that want to participate in Chain Reaction. Kipp stresses that they are not just looking for retail businesses, but all types of companies are welcome to apply. They are expecting more than 100 applications this year—up from 94 last year—and 20 growing companies will be invited to participate. The application deadline is 3 p.m. on Wednesday, May 30.
The 20 companies will go on to participate in a six-week “boot camp” at JumpStart for training on how to pitch and evaluate their businesses. The 20 companies will then present their businesses at the Chain Reaction Business Showcase at the end of July in the COSE offices (1240 Huron Road). From there, 10 businesses will be selected as finalists, and ultimately, five will be chosen for investment by the end of September.
“This is an economic development project that generates a lot of interest,” Kipp says of the number of applicants they expect. “We’re only able to help five businesses, but there are going to be 100 other small businesses that get noticed. The excitement that Chain Reaction generates allows small business to continue. Long after Chain Reaction ends, we’re seeing a lot of activity in real estate and small business. We’re trying to sustain a business-friendly environment.”
And, Kipp adds, just because Old Brooklyn is the chosen neighborhood this year, the Chain Reaction process highlights in the importance of supporting local businesses in all of Cleveland’s neighborhoods.
“It’s important to understand the unique fabric we have in these neighborhoods,” he says. “[Rather than shopping at mega-malls], these urban neighborhoods and the mom-and-pop shops offer a community feel. It’s just a different experience. You don’t always need that big box, one-stop shopping experience.”
Verespej is eager to showcase all his neighborhood has to offer the small business owner. “It will be exciting to tell the story on Old Brooklyn to new audiences who may not know the neighborhood,” he says. “For Cleveland to succeed, we need to have more neighborhoods like Old Brooklyn thriving. Chain Reaction is an important addition to that formula.”
In last year’s Chain Reaction, Slavic Village beat out Collinwood, St. Clair/Superior, and La Villa Hispana to be the highlighted neighborhood. Ultimately, the investors chose six companies to support—Lina Wines, Metro Croissants, Holmes Mouthwatering Applesauce, Baby Munch, Midwest Basics, and Sides to Go.
So is Old Brooklyn Cleveland’s “hot” new neighborhood?
While Verespej is reticent to use that exact phrasing, he feels confident and excited about the direction Old Brooklyn is heading. “Our growth is undeniable and should be recognized,” says Verespej. “Our housing prices have increased significantly, and the neighborhood has seen more small business growth in the last couple years than it has in generations.”
And Chain Reaction will certainly set more of that in motion.