Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin has described Breakfast Lunch & Dinner (BL&D) as “some of the most creative and committed folks in the city.” BL&D has been busy collaborating with local organizations including the Hartford Chamber of Commerce and reSET to help create experiences for local small and micro business owners. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with BL&D Partner Joshua Jenkins to learn more.

NAN PRICE: Let’s start from the top. What is Breakfast Lunch & Dinner?

JOSHUA JENKINS: BL&D is a community venture-building agency. What that means is that we’re constantly looking at the current landscape of the city of Hartford and the Connecticut River Valley Region as a whole and thinking about ways to make this a more fun and interesting place to work and live. If you have an idea or something interesting to offer to the general population, we want to leverage the resources at our disposal to help you see that through.

Personally, I identify with people who are in the position to serve; oftentimes, they’re doing it out of a necessity to connect and make things more accessible to a wider audience. I feel like BL&D is in the business to do that as well. We’ve been privileged enough to cultivate a following and develop partnerships with people and organizations so we can function as a liaison that can advocate and champion for individuals who are often excluded from a seat at the table.

NAN: A big part of your advocacy involves retail activation. Tell us more about that.

JOSH: Our main focus is exploring our retail activation initiative called Floor-Plan, which is focused on developing a hyper-local, robust retail community in Hartford. The basic premise is to create “a staircase” to success that small businesses and entrepreneurs can use to ascend at their own pace.

The small business market is so unique—and it’s make-or-break for so many. We want to create a staircase with stepping stones people can leverage to help foster their clientele and figure out their product demand with relatively low-risk.

NAN: Can you give us some examples?

JOSH: Sure. One example is the Retail Incubator we piloted in partnership with reSET earlier this year, which offered an eight-week workshop where small businesses from around the city took courses on developing an elevator pitch, working on their budget, pricing their products, and getting to market to help them refocus their business model and strategy.

Now, we’re producing a holiday market called Winterfair, which offer connections to Winterfest Hartford, with the goal of creating a shopping destination during the holiday season.

NAN: It’s a great opportunity to highlight local small and micro businesses.

JOSH: Right, exactly. The holiday market concept creates a more streamlined approach to have these small businesses and their products widely accessible for folks looking to shop locally and shop small this holiday season.

The idea of creating a shopping destination is so important—especially for small businesses—because it’s not easy or straightforward to just open up a brick-and-mortar shop. It takes a lot of different hands and it takes a lot of funding. But if you can create an environment that offers retail components and opportunities to have an experience or create an impression for the general population, that’s what keeps people coming back. And, if you think about creating retail in proximity to other retail, you’re now creating the opportunity for people to spend several hours shopping or interacting with new brands and products.

It’s about bringing multiple ideas together in the same environment. It’s homing in on this idea of experience-driven retail and focusing more on memories as possessions and how that can echo through more vibrant experiences.

NAN: Aside from opportunities to participate in things like pop-ups and outdoor markets, what are the long-term goals for these small businesses?

JOSH: When we were recruiting folks to apply for the Retail Incubator and going through the pool of applicants, we wanted to target functioning small businesses that have at least piloted their ideas and are looking for ways to scale and accelerate. We saw there was definitely a desire for those businesses to eventually open their own brick-and-mortar and we wanted to help support this idea of revitalizing Hartford’s retail ecosystem.

If the Retail Incubator was the first step of the staircase, the next step would be potentially working with the incubator cohort to eventually have their products available at places like Semilla Café + Studio, which has a retail component as part of its business model.

So, instead of being a singular business that needs to generate funding, scout locations, and allocate resources toward the actual infrastructure of a brick-and-mortar, these small businesses could find opportunities to streamline their products into a retail setting without the high risk of needing to do that all themselves.

NAN: Let’s talk a little about the importance of placemaking.

JOSH: I think access to space is probably the biggest conundrum for many entrepreneurs and small business owners—and even artists. Historically, space hasn’t always been assessable here in Hartford. Semilla is an example of what happens when space is provided and there’s an opportunity to allow ideas to scale and grow.

Connecting with the City of Hartford, the Hartford Chamber, and developers Shelbourne and Northland Investment, which granted us access to vacant storefronts downtown to produce the Winterfair holiday market, helps us lay the groundwork and the foundation for visionaries, entrepreneurs, and small business owners who can then use these spaces and environments to let their ideas run wild.

I feel like there’s such a talented pool of people in the Hartford community. We need to provide them with access to the resources available to allow things to happen. And it really starts with space. I’ve been able to manifest ideas pop-ups, installations, and experiences in collaboration with a lot of different people with very little resources as long as I’ve had space.

NAN: What are your hopes for the future Hartford? What would you ideally love to see happening in the city?

JOSH: When we started this partnership with Semilla, the idea was to foster a level of success so that it’s much easier to make another Semilla. I think that’s really the key. We need the continuation and cultivation of more spaces and ideas to retain the talent that often leaves Hartford in hopes of growing their career in a more vibrant city or environment. And we need to show that they can have that all here in Hartford by making these opportunities more accessible.

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Breakfast Lunch & Dinner Partner Joshua Jenkins and Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin at a press event announcing Winterfair.
The Retail Incubator cohort outside Semilla Café + Studio. Breakfast Lunch & Dinner and reSET partnered to create the program (Joshua Jenkins, far right). Photo courtesy reSET.