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How to start a business in York

Written by Brett Sholtis, York Daily Record | Oct 26, 2015 8:00 PM
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From left Matthew Davis, Brian Dudley, and Philip Given clear space in preparation for painters at York City Pretzel Co. in this October 2014 photo. Given said one advantage of opening a new business in York is the built-in community of people who want to see downtown businesses succeed. (Daily Record/Sunday News -- FILE)

So you want to start a business in York. Now what?

That was a familiar sentiment at the Oct. 13 "Fixing York" meeting. Some people said they just didn't know where to begin when it came to launching a small business downtown.

There are resources, however. Here's a roundup of advice from business owners and city officials for anyone who might want to start a business in the city.

Do: get the community involved

Phillip Given, owner of York City Pretzel Co. on West Market Street, said he's owned businesses in York since 2009. Given said the city has two major advantages over other York County townships: a "captive audience" of customers walking through the area, and a network of groups that want to see businesses succeed downtown.

"Once you recognize the structure of the people who want to help you do business, the city of York is more communicative than anywhere else," Given said.

The best point of entry to that network, Given said, is Downtown Inc.

Natalie Williams, Downtown Inc's small business liason, said the company, which is funded by a combination of city taxes and charitable donations, exists to promote economic growth in York. Her role is to connect entrepreneurs with other people in the city to get the needed approvals, launch the business and make it a success.

Williams said entrepreneurs should certainly do their research and write out a detailed business plan. However, she said, even someone in the early stages of planning a business is welcome to work with her -- at no cost -- to get advice on where to go next.

Don't: put the cart before the horse

York has set up a manual to run new business applicants through the gauntlet of approvals, from zoning to loan and tax abatement programs.

Shilvosky Buffaloe, Redevelopment Authority interim director, said those interested in launching a business should communicate with the city's zoning officer before they take on a lease or move in equipment.

"The common frustration of many applicants, really, is they preempt the process," Buffaloe said. "Either they've gone and signed a lease that's not allowed, or they've made investments. The cart is in front of the horse."

Buffaloe said those interested can get a free new business packet from the city, which includes a flow chart walking the entrepreneur through each step in the process.

Do: market the business

Getting approved by the city is just the first step, Given said. After that, the real work of actually running a profitable business begins.

Another advantage of the city, Given said, is that the whole business community is working together to market not only individual businesses but also the concept of York as a destination, through events such as First Friday. For him, marketing his business and making it another community hub have been essential to his success.

"Too many people put up a business, put a sign outside their door and say, okay, come to me," Given said. "It doesn't work like that."

Don't: expect it to be easy

On North Beaver Street, Chris Clarke's business, Sunrise Soap Company, has been open for 10 years. Clarke said a good concept can take years to mature, and in the mean time, an entrepreneur better be ready with a lot of hard work and dedication.

"I work a hundred hours a week, so I don't have to work 40 hours a week for someone else," Clarke said.

Clark said the decade of work has paid off, but she still has to keep finding ways to grow her business, with recent efforts including extended hours to tap into evening crowds flowing from The White Rose restaurant and Holy Hound Taproom.

Do: start small, plan big

Although Clarke began her own business with a brick-and-mortar location, she said she's seen a lot of business owners succeed by starting small to learn more about their demand and audience before committing to large financial investments.

Clarke said Clay Path Studio at West Market Street made a wise decision by starting out a Central Market before taking on a retail lease.

Brooke Teter, co-owner of Clay Path Studio, said that opening up a stand at Central Market was "a great tester" for her to gauge demand for their products.

"My business partner and I both decided it would be a cool venture making and selling pottery," Teter said. "We didn't have a ton of capital to work with, so you kind of have to start with what you have."

Teter said she couldn't have predicted that her customers would be so interested in learning how to make their own pottery -- an interest that spurred the need for the studio.

It was that same organic growth, Teter said, that led them to their "dream location" nearby on Beaver Street.

"We had a great response from Central Market, and we didn't want to leave that," she said.


This article comes to us through a partnership between York Daily Record and WITF. 

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