DENVER, Co. — What does a dream need in order to be made real? At Denver's The Zone, the answer is knowledge and space.
"We wanted to create some sort of opportunity for small businesses," said Andrea Barela, CEO of NEWSED, a multi-dimensional nonprofit that serves the needs of west Denver.
A big need right is teaching business savvy in a way that is affordable and realistic to help uplift a community battling gentrification and dislocation.
When they graduate, they can become vendors at The Zone, owned by the nonprofit, which can be rented out at an affordable rate, helping to kick start businesses that may have otherwise not gotten a chance to get off the ground.
"It's really what was needed to make sure that not only folks, um, are able to have this opportunity, but that they have the know-how in a very like fundamental format, like everything you need to know to run your business, you're gonna learn in this eight weeks," said Barela.
"It's a great support and allows me to really become surefooted in my business moving forward," said Latasha Bell, owner of Ashae Soaps who is a vendor at The Zone.
Even with a great support system, The Zone has taken hit after hit due to COVID-19. Shop closures and health setbacks, even loss of life, have provided great obstacles for the businesses as well as the nonprofit, putting dreams on pause.
"It feels really good, but it also makes me very anxious because I know that there's a lot more that we can be doing. There's a lot more folks that we can be helping. And I think, I feel like the, the pandemic has put, has crippled the retail community in a lot of ways," said Barela.
Susan Luna is another vendor at The Zone and owner of Luna Apparel. She says even though the pandemic has been tough, the skills she learned at NEWSED helped her business survive.
"I learned in the class that you have to pivot and you have to figure that out, and so I started making face masks and I couldn't make them fast enough. It was really kind of crazy. I never thought that I'd be doing that, but I started putting my own designs on face mask and that kept me afloat," she said.
"I've always said that I've learned that business reveals who you are and if you're not ready, you have to get ready, and if you can't get ready, then you're not going to make it, so that's where we are," said Bell.
As we enter the new year, NEWSED hopes that we choose to use our dollars intentionally, spending where it matters to help local entrepreneurs continue to realize their dreams of business success, no matter what 2022 may throw our way.
"Seek those kinds of businesses first, because folks are selling products so that they can support their families and support their families' futures. And to me, that's much more meaningful than buying from a big conglomerate who will do just fine, you know?" said Barela.