Pictured left to right: Angela Mesna, Christine Cox and Dawna Bass, Sasha Pace. Photos courtesy of the business owners.
Five businesses in Downtown Long Beach recently received a much-needed boost; They are recipients of the Woman-Owned Business Accelerator (WOBA) grants, an opportunity the Downtown Long Beach Alliance (DLBA) has been offering for the last four years. DLBA is dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs in Downtown, including minority-owned businesses, through a variety of economic development programs including grants.
In addition to the WOBA program, DLBA recently partnered with the Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship and Ubuntu Institute of Learning to provide economic support to entrepreneurs of color. The WOBA grant recipients went through an application process last fall, in which they presented their business, a vision for its future, and how grant money would be used.
Winners selected by DLBA’s Economic Development Committee divided a total of $10,000 in grants funded by Farmers & Merchants Bank. Grant winners also gained access to technical assistance and coaching from the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at California State University, Long Beach. In addition, the recipients are eligible to receive business development coaching from the Fuller Management Corporation, located in Downtown. Each of these small, women-owned businesses provides a distinctive offering for the Downtown community, and all of them have persevered through adversity to maintain their businesses.
DENISE MALDONADO owns Confidential Coffee, a roomy, community-centered coffeehouse at 137 West 6th Street. “Being a Latina woman in business is a very particular niche,” she said. “The fact that this grant opportunity was made available to me allowed me to feel seen by people of influence in my community.”
The presentation process prompted Maldonado to reevaluate her business plan. “It also reminded me why I continue to do what I do,” she said. “The WOBA experience has been inspiring and very rewarding for me.” Maldonado has placed her employees first on the list of priorities for grant money use. “Without them, Confidential Coffee wouldn’t have survived the pandemic,” she noted. “Together we have carried the shop on our backs and I want them to know how grateful I am for them.”
CHRISTINE COX and DAWNA BASS co-own Rainbow Juices and Under the Sun, two of Downtown’s healthiest nutrition options. Their line of cold-pressed, organic, raw juices has been a big success in Long Beach for close to 10 years, and Under the Sun, their cafe at 244 East Third Street, has a loyal clientele of folks who prefer their food raw and vegan. Shifting challenges caused by the pandemic, along with increased take-out demand from their ever-growing customer base, prompted the two entrepreneurs to seek help in expanding their business.
“This is a concept that we have been developing for quite some time,” said Cox. “With the help of DLBA we are now putting everything in motion. We are grateful and excited for this beautiful new chapter.”
CATHLEEN CLEVELAND’s East Village shop, Ash Bay Soap Co., has a built-in marketing feature: its enticing aroma. Passing shoppers catch a whiff and, the moment they walk in the door, are bathed in handmade soap scents such as Sage Spearmint, Ginger Lemongrass, and Grapefruit Geranium. Unfortunately, the pandemic brought East Village foot traffic to a standstill for a while, which affected business for Cleveland.
“The people that did come in were wary. I had to make sure to educate them that the virus can’t live on soap,” she said. The WOBA grant money will go a long way in helping Cleveland regain stability with her business. She is also looking forward to the coaching. “I don’t have a college degree in business. I have learned everything I know from experience,” she said. “I am excited to see what I can learn and use to grow my business.”
SASHA PACE is a relative newcomer to the Downtown small business scene, having opened Vida Plant Shop at 748 Pine Avenue just five months ago. The pandemic spawned an indoor plant movement locally, and now, thanks to Pace’s boutique, shoppers on North Pine can quickly find the means to nature-ize their environment, with an ample stock of pots, soils, and wonderfully exotic plants at their fingertips.
Pace’s early success has gained a lot of attention. Most recently, she was the subject of a feature article on people of color in the plant world that ran in the LA Times. The story provides a first-hand account of how she made the shift from burned out advertising producer to entrepreneur.
The WOBA application process inspired Pace to think in a more critical way about her business, and helped her organize her hopes for its future. “Navigating the grant process can be daunting but the DLBA staff was extremely helpful and kind,” she said. “As a new business, run solely by myself, every dollar makes a difference. The coaching will strengthen my ability to run the business smoothly and with the right tools. It’s a privilege to participate in the WOBA program.”
ANGELA MESNA, who owns and operates District Wine at 144 Linden Avenue, developed a detailed vision for a wine lounge and tapas bar many years ago, and she has certainly realized it with District Wine; The popular East Village spot is known for its cozy ambience, its wide variety of wines and its support of the arts. As stated in her WOBA presentation, Mesna would like District Wine to be “the local hub for those in the neighborhood, and for visitors to get a taste of what makes Long Beach so special.”
Mesna’s establishment, like all other Downtown bars and restaurants, was drastically affected by the pandemic restrictions. The grant money will help her “navigate out of the survival mode of the pandemic,” she said, also noting that she’ll be investing in the continuing wine education of her staff, and putting marketing efforts into expanding the demographics of her clientele.
“The presentation portion of the application process was a great way to connect with the DLBA Board, get feedback and also foster relationships with the other finalists,” added Mesna. “It also offered a way to connect with and support other women-owned businesses, which is even more important after we all endured the hardships of the pandemic.”
For more information about the Woman-Owned Business Accelerator Program, please contact the Downtown Long Beach Alliance.