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We can be heroes

The tantalizing smell of local food from up and coming restaurateurs was heavy in the air last Thursday night as Anchorage Community Land Trust (ACLT) celebrated Anchorage’s entrepreneurs. Featuring eats from Wooden Spoons, Eva’s Cupcakery, Bubs Kabobs & BBQ, Cali’s Southern BBQ & Soulfood, and Mac’s Snacks and Treats the event’s caterers were a shining example of the success of ACLT’s Set Up Shop program.

Under the guidance of ACLT and Business Boutique owner Jasmin Smith, the Set Up Shop program offers individualized training, lending and technical assistance such as personal consultations and access to low-cost services to program graduates. In its first year of existence, the program has already graduated 37 entrepreneurs from the rigorous 12-week program.

“Who here believes that small businesses can uplift a neighborhood,” asked Senator Johnny Ellis. “Because I do!”

There are other programs within Anchorage that offer financial and business support to small business owners but what differentiates ACLT’s program is that it gives priority to Mountain View, Fairview and Spenard businesses and business owners.

“The big thing is that these are entrepreneurs who aren’t eligible for bank loans and aren’t reached by services provided by other state and nationally funded programs,” explained ACLT’s Director of Communications and Development Emily Cohn. “77% of our graduates have been women, and 85% are from minority communities. We’re really, really proud of that!”

To date, the program has provided 11 businesses with 87 hours of business assistance and lent $22,500 to entrepreneurs. But ACLT doesn’t just work with businesses that are in the early stages of development. It has also assisted some of Anchorage’s most exciting small businesses like Eva’s Cupcakery

“I spent 21 years in the service and then another 8 years working in the federal government after I retired from the service. Then finally, I decided it was time for me to pursue my dream,” Eva’s Cupcakery owner Eva Perry told the packed crowd at the Church of Love. “The Mountain View community has been very supportive, and I think they feel proud of their community. I am proud to be a part of it.”

Uplifting the Anchorage’s entrepreneurs through financial and business assistance isn’t the only prerogative of ACLT. They also want to use the success of current business owners to inspire the next generation.

“A few years ago, a few of us ladies walked into a porn store and decided to do something a little bit better for it. So, we tore it down, and we eventually built The Writer’s Block Bookstore and Café,” joked Writer’s Block co-owner Vered Mares during her acceptance speech for ACLT’s Neighborhood Business of the Year.

After over a year of business that has included numerous pop-up concerts, lectures, book readings and amazing food, it is safe to say that the Writer’s Block has done so much more than “a little better”. It is the home of a vibrant arts and literary scene and a beacon of entrepreneurial success in a revitalized Anchorage neighborhood.

Another perhaps unexpected success story is that of 14-year-old Kate Davis, the owner of Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy. As the recipient of ACLT’s Rising Star award, Davis has already accumulated an impressive resume which includes three years of business ownership. She’s also the youngest member of the Mountain View Community Council and an active volunteer for Anchorage Youth Court.

“You can’t change the world in a single step, you have to work towards what you want. For me, I might not be able to make a big impact just yet, but soon I will,” said Davis.

Whereas Davis is looking forward to a long career, President and CEO of Cook Inlet Housing Authority Carol Gore is looking backwards at her storied career that is marked by breathing new life into Anchorage’s most troubled neighborhoods.

“I believe in all of you. I believe you can continue the work. Trust your passion and be fearless. I’m really counting on all of you to build an army of heroes,” said an emotional Gore upon accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award.

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