Richmond business hub opens with co-working spaces, pop-up restaurants
on May 13, 2019
The newly-opened Richmond Business Hub stands on the first floor of the Richmond BART parking garage at the corner of 16th Street and Macdonald, across the street from the Rich City Rides bike shop. It was unveiled last month during a ribbon-cutting event attended by city councilmembers, residents and members of the Richmond Main Street Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing the downtown.
The 10,000 square-foot hub is a co-working facility: two working space ventures, Co-Biz and Oakstop, are part of it. It’s also a food hall; Red Bay Coffee and Roux Bayou, a soul food restaurant, are the first two businesses to join. The food businesses are within Oakstop’s open space, inside freestanding white cargo containers remodeled to serve as tiny restaurants. Oakstop and Roux Bayou are open now for business, Red Bay Coffee will open later this month, and Co-Biz is set to open in September.
The mission for the hub is to create a place where Richmond residents can participate in the city’s economic growth as it invests in the downtown, according to the press release for the ribbon-cutting event. “I want the community to know that this business hub is for them,” said Ernst Valery, developer of the Richmond Business Hub and managing partner at the Baltimore-based developing firm SAA EVI.
Decades ago, Richmond’s downtown was a popular East Bay hangout. Richmond Mayor Tom Butt said the area “was at its peak” during the second World War. “It started going downhill in the 1970s,” said Butt. “It’s finally starting to come back.” Butt said that opening the new business hub is not the beginning of a downtown revitalization, but that it may be its tipping point.
As the city’s downtown changes, people involved in the shift are making sure they create it with Richmond in mind. “When people talk about empowerment, you almost have to wonder: ‘Whose empowerment?’” Valery asked. “Who gets the capital?”
The hub’s founding business owners, along with Valery, will help Richmond residents create proposals for food-related pop-up businesses that could be located in the hub. People who want to open a temporary, limited-run shop must submit a proposal. If the pop-ups are successful, Valery will work with their owners to turn them into permanent restaurants.
The people who run the two office spaces that will anchor the hub are also prioritizing hiring local residents as staffers. One of these anchors is Oakstop, an affordable coworking and event space that also serves as a business center for artists and entrepreneurs. A pass for Oakstop includes wifi, printing and access to private, soundproof calling booths. The open space has tables with tall stools for clients to work on and stacks of flyers with information about local events, such as Taste of Richmond, where the city’s food and drink businesses are showcased. Near the Roux Bayou restaurant are a series of desks that will soon have monitors available for clients.
Every person working at the new Oakstop location is a Richmond resident, according to Trevor Parham, the company’s director and founder. Oakstop, which opened its first workspace in 2014 in Oakland, is also entirely black-owned and operated. “One major focus was not just to create a business center for artists, but really a business ecosystem that would focus on hiring people of color,” said Parham.
Parham founded the first Oakstop after noticing a pattern: Artists were driving economic interest in Oakland, he said, but gentrification and a changing real estate market were driving those same artists to move away. “We need to keep those artists in Oakland, and in downtown in particular,” said Parham. “Richmond now is in the same position economically.”
The group’s first hire at the new location was lifelong Richmond resident Christen Thomas, who is now the site manager. Thomas initially submitted a proposal to join the hub as an entrepreneur. She was hosting pop-up brunches, and she wanted to join the food hall. Her proposal wasn’t approved, but she met people involved in the opening of the hub, including Parham. She stayed in touch with him and other business owners because she wanted to make sure Richmond residents were hired to work at the new space.
“When these types of developments come into a city, we all worry about gentrification,” said Thomas during a phone interview she took from Oakstop’s calling booth. The single-person phone booth has a wooden exterior and a bright green interior, and it includes a power outlet and a chair, plus heating and air conditioning.
But, Thomas said, that’s not been the case with the new hub. “What I’m seeing in my everyday are people who look like me,” she said. “It’s for everyone, but the focus is creating a space for black and brown people.”
That’s a philosophy shared by Valery, as well; he wants to develop the city without displacing Richmond residents. But he understands the barriers people of color often face as entrepreneurs, such as knowing how to put a proposal together or how to develop a business idea. “We’re going to hold people’s hand” when it comes to developing business proposals, he said. “We want to be that support system.”
In addition to the hub, Valery also hopes to help redevelop the surrounding downtown in a way that provides opportunities for local entrepreneurs and creates more community spaces. A few ideas he’s working on include retail stores, cafés, and a brewpub—and his goal is for each business to be owned or staffed by residents. “We’re adding so much density downtown because we want Richmond to also be that place people can come up,” he said. “We want Richmond to be inclusive and welcoming.”
As the hub goes through its series of soft openings for the businesses still in progress, events will be held to showcase the amenities that are already available. A June 15 event will highlight Roux Bayou, Red Bay Coffee, and Lupita’s Mexican Food, a local food business.
Note: The date for the event was corrected to June 15.
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