Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com
Local entrepreneurs are filling retail spaces and offices at a newly opened East Boston business incubator, launching new ventures and fulfilling dreams of becoming their own bosses.
The transformation of the former Public Welfare building at 154 Maverick St. is the culmination of eight years of work and 18 months of renovation for John and Melissa Tyler, themselves entrepreneurs who wanted to provide an affordable space and access to resources to help community members become business owners.
“Oh my God, I can’t believe we’re here,” Melissa Tyler, 47, said Friday, just a few days after the opening of the new space, tentatively named Maverick Market Place. She said the project had been a “pipe dream for a long time,” something she first conceived of when she was 19.
Her inspiration was Affleck’s Palace, an eclectic indoor market in Manchester, England, that got its start when the owners of an old department store building began renting small sections to young people selling clothing, records, books, and vintage items, she said.
“Over the years it just developed into a hip, fun, trendy place to go for all ages,” she said.
Melissa Tyler is the founder of several small businesses, the most recent being an online venture called TummyToys, which sells jewelry for people with pierced bellybuttons.
When she started the business, she said, she knew nothing about e-commerce, so she started looking for resources to help her.
“I said, ‘I can’t be the first person to do this. There’s got to be help,’” she recalled.
But there was no one place to find the guidance and resources she needed, so she spent about four years putting together information and contacts acquired through the federal Small Business Administration and private organizations set up to help entrepreneurs.
She wants to put what she has learned to use for others, to make it easier for them to succeed. To fill the building, she said, she sought people who were struggling to start businesses at their kitchen tables and needed an affordable space to set up shop.
“A lot of people, when they start a business, they’re not given any help,” she said, and often small business owners can’t afford to step away from their businesses to seek the help they need.
She said that once an entrepreneur outgrows the space, the Tylers will help secure financing to buy or rent a bigger space in the community, which they hope will help redevelop more properties in need of improvement.
The Tylers looked for an appropriate space for a business incubator for years before they found the Public Welfare building and got permission to take a look inside. They immediately shared a single vision for its redevelopment, and in October 2005 they submitted their request to purchase the building from the City of Boston.
They finally got their wish about a year and a half ago. Since then they have spent about $850,000 on renovations and expect to spend another $400,000 to $500,000.
John Tyler said 14 of the 17 available retail and office spaces are already rented. The Tylers are glad to see that the mix of business owners reflects the diversity of the community, and that most are women.
The first-floor retail spaces rent for $450 to $1,200 per month and include a shoe store, two women’s boutiques, a shop selling toys and trading cards, an electronics store, and Salamander’s Coffee Place, run by Quincy resident Mercedes Pica, 42.
Pica, who came to the Boston area from Bogota, Colombia, seven years ago, said she decided to start a business after she was laid off from a marketing job at a big downtown firm.
“I was a little bit tired of being an employee, so I decided to be my own boss,” she said.
On the second floor are an acupuncturist, shipping company, speech therapist, couples counselor, digital marketer, and three offices that are still available for $500 per month, including utilities and internet access.
On the top floor are two apartments, one affordable unit and another where the Tylers are living.
The re-opening of the long-derelict building has excited neighborhood residents. John Tyler said throughout the renovation process, passersby stopped to poke their heads inside and ask, “What’s going on?”
On Friday afternoon, a woman saw the front doors open and walked in from Maverick Street.
“It’s good to see something happening in here,” she said.
Many in the neighborhood may be glad to see the building put to use, but it is unlikely that anyone is happier than the Tylers.
“What’s really exciting for us right now is to see the building come alive,” John Tyler said. “It’s been our dream for so long.”
For a gallery of photos from the business incubator, click here.