Joshua Tehee

Downtown Fresno Foundation looks to build new business with competition

Columnist Joshua Tehee looks at the types of businesses he thinks would make people giddy about being in downtown Fresno.
Columnist Joshua Tehee looks at the types of businesses he thinks would make people giddy about being in downtown Fresno. Fresno Bee Staff Photo

I’m leery of talking renaissance in downtown Fresno, especially when there are those with memories much longer than mine who have heard the claim for years.

Still, there is no denying the feeling of movement in the city’s urban core, or the fact that there’s more to come as we make way for high-speed rail, bus rapid transit and the return of traffic (slow as it may be) to Fulton Mall.

The Create Here Business Plan Competition seeks to capitalize on that feeling. Sponsored by the Downtown Fresno Foundation, the competition will help one startup, well, start up. There’s a $10,000 cash prize and a year’s free rent.

This kind of competition isn’t unique to Fresno. It’s been used in cities like Cleveland and Sacramento, where the first winner was a high-end candy shop, that gives you a sense of the types of businesses that might want to apply. Ideally, the business would expand downtown’s retail and entertainment offerings, says Aaron Blair, president/CEO of Downtown Fresno Partnership. A wine-bar would be nice, he says.

This is private-sector economic development with real, lasting results. The application process is designed to hone the business plan and teach potential business owners the skills they will need to be successful. The goal is to have five businesses (a winner and four finalists) ready to open shops regardless of which is awarded the grand prize, Blair says.

“We’re basically building new champions for downtown,” he says.

It’s also building some excitement for those of us who live and work downtown. It’s sparked at least a few conversations among my friends about the types of businesses that would make us giddy about being downtown. With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of what I’d like to see, in order of the likelihood they will even happen (eager entrepreneurs should feel free to run with any of these):

1. Another brewery

There are rumors at least one local brewery (possibly three) will open a downtown tap-room in the near future. So, this could already be happening.

Why it’s needed: It’s called synergy. Tioga Sequoia’s beer garden is already open on the south end of Fulton Mall. It has its core of regulars and a growing number of others that come by every time it releases a new brew. Add even one other brewery and that section of downtown becomes a destination for craft-brew fans.

1.5 million The total regional market share for downtown Fresno, making it perfect for destination-based businesses

2. Gym

As an amenity, a full-time, full-service gym would be a game-changer for downtown. It’s surprising that no one has tried it yet, what with five-plus years of residential influx and the consistent stream of government workers each day. It would have to be extra classy, with high-end equipment and security. Early morning and lunch-time classes (yoga, Crossfit, TRX) are requisite, as is late-night hours for downtown residents.

Biggest obstacle: Overcoming the perceptions of downtown (read: parking, safety).

3. Pizza place

Fast and cheap or fancy gourmet, it doesn’t matter — though pizza by the slice would be great.

My vision: A hipper (or hipster) version of John’s Incredible Pizza Company. The food would be on point, obviously. But this would also be a place to hangout. I’m thinking an indoor horseshoe pit, bocce ball courts and wall of pinball and/or vintage video games.

4. Book store

Joe Meno read at Barnes and Noble in 2004. He was a fairly obscure author and there were less than 10 of us there, huddled around the music section as he read. Afterward, he signed my just-purchased copy of “Hairstyles of the Damned” and became one of my favorite writers.

I realize you can get books on Amazon. I want a brick-and-mortar store. One that actively pursues the kind of literary opportunities I had with Meno, while offering a mix of books across genres.

What it needs: A large selection and a hip, knowledgeable staff that can offer recommendations.

5. Art-house movie theater

A small, independent movie theater has been high on the wish-list of Fresno film fans for a long time. Many envision a full-time Fresno Filmworks. And downtown is full of potential spaces for such an endeavor, including several one-time movie theaters (The Crest comes to mind).

Why you’d go: To get a break from the multiplex. Instead of crowded aisles, the stink of popcorn and the latest blockbuster, you’d get quaint atmosphere, high-end snacks, wine and beer and choice art, foreign and documentary films.

Create Here Business Plan Competition

  • Applications accepted Wednesday, July 1, through 5 p.m. Friday, August 15
  • Downtown Fresno Foundation, 845 Fulton Mall
  • Registration: $50, nonrefundable
  • (559) 490-9966, www.downtownfresno.org/foundation
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