Former SF Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson once famously referred to Emeryville as “the Little City that could” in this 1999 piece, acknowledging the business boom at the time that included the East Bay Bridge Mall and IKEA. Johnson also acknowledged the overall lack of community spirit in our city and sadly, this hasn’t changed much in the last 17 years.
Little City Emeryville (“LCE” for short) is a new community organization that is hoping to make a dent in this lack of city pride and help turn the tide of the perceived “chainification” of our town. “Emeryville is known for its big box stores, but we want to remind people that we’re here too” noted co-founder Marilyn Boucher who owns The Broken Rack Pool Hall along with her husband Wayne. “The primary focus of the Chamber of Commerce when it was around revolved around big business. We wanted an organization that looked after the little guys like us. I think sometimes ‘business’ is all lumped in together in discussions. We’re not the 1%, we’re hardworking regular people who care about our employees and the community and we want to give back and even help enrich it.”
Boucher along with a few other small businesses including East Bay Pilates co-owner and Economic Development Committee member Krisna Hanks and Scarlet City Espresso’s Jen St. Hilaire and Susanna Handow started meeting and discussing how they might be able to join forces. They got together and thought how they could work together to get better representation in the city and create a focus around giving back and supporting a healthy small business climate. Without any money or deep pockets, they passed around the hat and scraped together a few bucks to print some collateral and put together a website. They then organized a few events to gauge interest and thought they had something to work with.
Other founding members include Match Analysis’ Mark Brunkhart, Terry Paulding of Paulding & Co., Paula Skene of Paula Skene Designs and The E’ville Eye editor Rob Arias who designed their logo and business collateral and helped connect some of the parties involved. “I’m first and foremost a resident of our community” noted E’ville Eye founder Rob Arias. “Small businesses are a huge component of the vibrancy of this city and I want them to thrive. You take our small businesses away from Emeryville, what are you left with?”.
“We think the community wants to support small business” noted East Bay Pilates co-owner and Economic Development Advisory Committee member Krisna Hanks. “They want unique, locally serving retail, but it’s easy to forget about us in the shadow of the IKEA’s and Bay Streets. The ‘Shop Local’ message in Emeryville is one that needs to be reinforced.”
As a first step LCE instituted a discount card program that benefited ECAP with 19 businesses agreeing to participate. Due to logistical issues the program is now being re-evaluated for the coming year but we are optimistic that we can find some simplified version that will benefit residents, local business, and local charity.
ECAP, if you’re not familiar with, is a local non-profit on San Pablo Avenue founded by former Councilmember Nellie Hannon that helps feed the hungry. Nellie’s brother and operations director Bobby Miller graciously accepted LCE’s offer and the money earned through the selling of these cards goes directly into their PayPal account. Money used to provide things like gas for their delivery vehicle, cleaning and maintenance and of course purchasing food for the needy.
Like any new organization that’s volunteer-run, getting momentum is tough but they’re optimistic it will resonate with fellow small businesses and the community. LCE has a tough road ahead of it and has already seen an exodus of two of its founding members including Farley’s Chris Hillyard and Bacano Bakery’s Elan LaLonde who have left our community for various reasons.
Little City Emeryville will be hosting a candidate forum for members and cardholders this Tuesday, September 27th to understand the priorities of each candidate and how they apply to small businesses.
Little City Emeryville is a new organization dedicated to preserving and promoting Emeryville’s unique local identity and vibrant community. The group consists of small businesses, residents and community leaders who are committed to building and strengthening the relationships that join our City together.