Business owner Myles Bunch grew up in Las Vegas’ historic Westside, and his family operated the now-closed Chez Place restaurant and lounge.
Now he runs his own food business with his wife, Valencia Lawerence, called Edible Bunch, a mobile plant-based restaurant that sets up shop at farmers markets and at events throughout the Las Vegas Valley. But he said the business environment in the historic Westside is underdeveloped, making it difficult for small business owners like him to find support services.
“It just doesn’t seem like we have the same funding opportunity as other sides of town,” said Bunch, whose goal is to open a brick-and-mortar location.
That could change thanks to a $2.1 million federal grant from the US Economic Development Administration.
The grant, managed by UNLV, is being used to launch the UNLV Tourism Business Igniter, and it will help hospitality and tourism-related businesses in the historic Westside, said Bo Bernhard, vice president of economic development at the UNLV, in an e-mail.
Officials held a ribbon cutting last week to unveil the new 850-square-foot space, located on the campus of the nonprofit Nevada Partners, 690 W. Lake Mead Blvd. The program will begin early next year and the grant is expected to last two years, Bernhard said.
Ela Garcia, project manager at Nevada Partners, said the university and the nonprofit have been working on writing the grant over the past year. She said the new federal funds will cover some “additional services” such as child care and transportation costs, which can be a limiting factor for people starting a business.
“These resources that we wouldn’t normally have are going to be more accessible to them,” Garcia said.
UNLV Tourism Business Igniter attendees will also have access to services provided by Nevada Partners such as its computer lab, workshop and meeting rooms, according to Garcia.
Bernhard noted that the igniter will serve as a “gathering space” for small businesses. It will offer programs such as entrepreneurship courses, assistance with marketing and legal services, and mentorship of successful small businesses in the region.
“A Different Place”
Bunch said the new ignition program could be “huge” for nearby businesses due to their proximity to the Strip and downtown Las Vegas.
“There are a lot of businesses trying to thrive (in the historic Westside),” he said. “We are right next to the city center and it’s like a total difference when you come from the city center and cross the overpass, and it’s like you’re in a different place.”
Bunch said he participated in a similar business development program run by Nevada Partners called Promise Startups, which helped him scale The Edible Bunch.
“It showed me that I was on the right track,” he said. “And then it gave me a few things that I was missing and gave us different ideas about how you could scale your business.”
Bunch began developing the brand with his wife in 2019, eventually launching the business in January.
Clark County Commissioner William McCurdy II said the historic Westside has been overlooked in the past, but he believes the new federal funding will help improve the small business environment.
“It’s only the historic Westside because it’s west of the railroad tracks, and historically that was the only place African Americans could be,” McCurdy said. “At one time there were several hotels and housed the Moulin Rouge, which was the first integrated hotel and casino in all of Las Vegas. So it starts with starting to tell and share the story of the Westside.
The area has often been overlooked, but things are starting to take off with services like the new UNLV Tourism Business Igniter and recent development plans. Last month, the Las Vegas City Council approved a deal with developer Sam Cherry that includes a five-story, 84-unit rental complex with 10,000 square feet of retail space.
Cherry, CEO of Cherry Development, told the Review-Journal that he is considering food and beverage outlets and hopefully a business incubator program in the nearly $22 million project. from Washington Avenue and Interstate 15.
McCurdy said the state secured the $2.1 million grant to help the city’s tourism industry, which has been decimated during the pandemic.
Southern Nevada received a total of $3.9 million, including $2.1 million earmarked for the ignition program and $1.8 million in Las Vegas for pre-vocational training in cooking and of the hotel industry, according to a press release.
“The Southern Nevada economy has been disproportionately impacted by COVID, due to the very nature of us not having a diverse economy and a diverse source of income,” he said.
Garcia said Nevada Partners plans to focus on connecting historic Westside businesses to resources that will help them tap into the tourism industry, increasing their chances of success.
“It’s a lot of little things that make people focus their business on tourism just because Las Vegas is known for tourism, and then what better way to capitalize on your business, right?” she says.
Contact Sean Hemmersmeier at email@example.com. Follow @seanhemmers34 on Twitter.
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