November 17, 2023

Tulsa’s Recipe for Small Business Success: People, Places, and Spaces

By: Kian Kamas
Executive Director, PartnerTulsa

As the leaves change colors, temperatures drop, and Tulsans across the city begin preparations for the holiday season, it’s the perfect time to remember the local businesses, places, and spaces which make this time of year memorable and meaningful.

Nationwide, initiatives like Small Business Saturday and Shop Local remind us of the value and power of supporting businesses in our own communities and understanding the amplified impact of $1 spent with a local business. 

Over the past decade, Tulsa has persistently invested in infrastructure that lifts up small businesses. The continued revitalization of Tulsa’s Route 66 is firmly rooted in the growth of small business, as evidenced by major projects such as Mother Road Market, which supports growing food and retail businesses, and complementary programs like the Route 66 Commission’s neon sign grant program and the recently announced façade grant program.

For the commercial, retail, and food businesses, which help shape our favorite places to visit in Tulsa, success is equal parts a function of access to the technical support and resources founders and entrepreneurs need to build a strong enterprise, and the presence of unique, vibrant spaces that bring people together time and time again.

The “chefs” behind building these places and spaces are rarely acknowledged, but spend countless hours identifying the right mix of programs, strategies, and investments that will help create the conditions for small business success.

In east Tulsa, organizations like the Tulsa Global District and Avanzando Juntos are leading strategies to invest in the next generation of immigrant-owned businesses, while creating programming and events that showcase the unique cultures that are shaping Tulsa’s growing economy. Efforts to establish a new Community Development Corporation in east Tulsa aim to further amplify this work by accelerating investments in real estate and the built environment.

At the intersection of 36th Street North and Peoria, the Phoenix District has partnered with Better Block to “pop up” a physical space that helps residents and city leaders imagine what permanent infrastructure might look like and how it can support the continued revitalization of a corridor that has become home to some of Tulsa’s most substantial housing and employment investments. 

Additionally, the Downtown Tulsa Partnership is reshaping how residents, workers, and visitors use Chapman Green by hosting the new Midweek Market, while building upon the success of last year’s holiday pop-up shops and preparing to host a new round of businesses this holiday season. These new efforts compliment and build upon long-standing downtown programming like Winterfest in the Arena District and holiday markets at Guthrie Green.

Each of these efforts is led by teams of economic and community development professionals and passionate residents who are committed to enhancing their neighborhood and building an environment that sets small businesses up for success.

This speaks to an often unacknowledged element of any recipe for success: investments in human capital and capacity-building for the professionals and residents who will lead place-based initiatives are vital. Growing the number of passionate Tulsans working in these spaces – and providing them with the resources and skills needed to do impactful work – will be key to Tulsa’s long-term success.

In the coming months, PartnerTulsa will work with community members and organizations to pilot  initiatives that support and fund the implementation of impactful community arts programs. Acknowledging that the economic success of a neighborhood and its businesses are directly tied to the vibrancy of those places and spaces, we will visit Chicago this month to learn about its placemaking results. 

As we all build our holiday shopping lists and set out to support local small businesses, I encourage you to celebrate the people and organizations that help shape your favorite neighborhoods. Their work is shaping our city’s future, and improving our collective future.