Historic Westside businesses have new resources and UNLV programs

Business owner Myles Bunch grew up on Las Vegas’ Historic Westside, and his family used to operate 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 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 himself to find support services.

“It doesn’t seem like we’re getting the same opportunities, like from the other side of town,” said Bunch, who aims to open a brick-and-mortar location.

That could change thanks to a $2.1 million federal grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

The grant, managed by UNLV, is being used to run the UNLV Tourism Business Igniter, and it will help hospitality and tourism-related companies in the historic Westside, Bo Bernhard, vice president of economic development at UNLV, said in an email.

Officials held a ribbon cutting last week to unveil the new 850-square-foot space, which is located on the nonprofit Nevada Partners campus, 690 W. Lake Mead Blvd. The program will begin early next year, and the grant should last for two years, Bernhard said.

Ela Garcia, project manager at Nevada Partners, said the university and nonprofit have been working on grant writing for the past year. He said the new federal funding will cover some “wraparound services” such as child care and transportation costs, which can be limiting factors for people starting businesses.

“These resources that we don’t normally have will be more accessible to them,” Garcia said.

UNLV Tourism Business Igniter participants will also have access to services provided by Nevada Partners such as computer labs, workshops and meeting rooms, according to Garcia.

Bernhard said the igniter will be a “meeting room,” for small businesses. It will offer programs such as entrepreneurship classes, help with marketing and legal services, and mentoring from successful small businesses in the area.

‘A different place’

Bunch said the new igniter program could be “huge” for nearby businesses because of their proximity to the Strip and downtown Las Vegas.

“There are a lot of businesses that are trying and thriving (on the Historic Westside),” he said. “We’re next to the city and it’s like a total difference when you leave the city and you cross the freeway, 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 shows I’m on the right track,” he said. “And then it gave me some pieces that I was missing and gave us a different idea of ​​the possibility of scaling your business.”

Bunch began developing the brand with his wife in 2019, eventually launching the company in January.

Clark County Commissioner William McCurdy II said the historic Westside has been neglected in the past, but he believes the new federal funding will help improve the environment for small businesses.

“It’s just the Historic Westside because it’s west of the railroad, and historically, it’s the only place where African Americans can be,” McCurdy said. “At one point in time, it was several hotels and it was home to the Moulin Rouge, the first integrated hotel-casino in all of Las Vegas. So, it began by beginning to speak and share the Westside story.

This area is often overlooked, but things are starting with services like UNLV’s new Tourism Business Igniter and new development plans. Last month, the Las Vegas City Council approved agreement with developer Sam Cherry which calls for a five-story, 84-unit rental complex with 10,000 square meters of commercial space.

Cherry, CEO of Cherry Development, told the Review-Journal that he envisions a food and beverage store and hopefully a business incubator program in the $22 million project near Washington Avenue and Interstate 15.

Recovery Mode

McCurdy said the state secured a $2.1 million grant to help the city’s tourism industry, which was devastated during the pandemic.

Southern Nevada received a total of $3.9 million with $2.1 million reserved for the igniter program and $1.8 million to Las Vegas for pre-major training in the culinary and hospitality sector, according to a news release.

“Southern Nevada’s economy is being disproportionately affected by COVID, because of the nature that we don’t have a diverse economy and diverse revenue streams,” he said.

Garcia said Nevada Mitra plans to focus on connecting businesses in the historic Westside with resources that will help them tap into the tourism industry, increasing their chances of success.

“It’s a lot of little things that cause people to focus their business on tourism just because Las Vegas is known for tourism, and what better way to capitalize on your business, right?” she said.

Contact Sean Hemmersmeier at [email protected] Follow up @seanhemmers34 on Twitter.

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