At a busy but nondescript intersection in Pacoima, a real estate developer is trying to help revive the San Fernando Valley neighborhood with an open-air market and retail complex aimed at small entrepreneurs.
The complex on Van Nuys Boulevard at San Fernando Road will be called Zocalito of Pacoima, said developer Cary J. Lefton, chief executive of Sherman Oaks developer Agora Realty & Management Inc.
Zocalito will have walkways and plazas similar to small towns in Mexico when it opens in the fall. The concept has been successful at his company’s larger Latino-oriented Plaza del Valle shopping center in Panorama City, Lefton said.
He hopes the new operation will become a template for developments in other neighborhoods where unpolished mom-and-pop operators seek to break out on their own.
The project is being built as a launching pad for first-time restaurateurs and shopkeepers, he said.
“We’re looking for maybe someone who works in the back of a restaurant and trying to give them a helpful hand to get in their own business.”
The help will not come as a direct subsidy; monthly rents will be above the market average at $2.50 to $6 a square foot. The advantage for tenants, the developer said, is that Agora will build the small restaurant spaces to meet city regulations. The spaces will have commercial-grade electrical and sewer systems and required food service fixtures such as grease interceptors that trap grease before it can flow into the city sewer system.
Lefton calls it a “plug and play” concept that will enable new businesses to rapidly hook up their equipment and hang out an “open” sign. They’ll share the complex with two or three national brand tenants that should help draw foot traffic, he said.
Avoiding the upfront costs of preparing a small restaurant to meet building and safety codes can be a lifesaver for entrepreneurs launching on a financial shoestring, said Lefton, who has seen start-ups burn through all their capital trying to set up shop and fail before they can even open their doors.
The 18,000-square-foot Zocalito will have seven restaurant slots. Its 14 shops will be able to easily expand if a tenant’s business takes off. At Plaza del Valle, for example, Milo’s Pet Shop has grown from 200 square feet to 2,000 square feet since it opened a decade ago, Lefton said.
Zocalito’s design is intended to invite people waiting for a bus to come inside, where there will be public restrooms and quick snacks for sale, said the project’s architect, Alan Pullman, of Studio One Eleven. There will be mature trees, landscaping, seating and a play area for kids.
“A zocalito is a small public square,” Pullman said.