Our 2012 Small Business Awards - Page 2

Honoring the local, independent entrepeneurs who make the city a better place to live, work, and play

Kelly Malone of Workshop and Indie Mart, our 2012 Woman in Business

Founder Eric Prosnitz came up with the Sports Basement idea in an effort to create a more personalized experience in an off-price retail outlet, something tailored more closely to Northern California's environment. Products change every week, discounts rule, and employees are encouraged to treat customers as individuals with a continuum of outdoor lifestyle needs. And the Basement recognizes that it's an expansive company with the power to affect various neighborhoods. Last year, its locations hosted more than 2,000 community groups at 7,000 events, averaging around four events per store per day. Ten-15% of the retail space serves as free community space. Examples: Walnut Creek holds a fundraiser in the form of a kid apparel fashion show, Sunnyvale hosts ASHA for India, an organization dedicated to providing education for underprivileged children in India; Bryant St. houses the AIDS Lifecycle organization, and Presidio is the meeting spot for Golden Gate Mother's Group — just to mention a few.

Aaron Schweifler, Director of Operations at Sports Basement, says the staff is encouraged to be creatively autonomous, and hopes each store will provide a shopping experience that can "wow" local residents. We are wowed! (Soojin Chang)



In 1975, Greg Markoulis of American Industrial Center (2345 Third St., SF. www.aicproperties.com) was scouring San Francisco to find a new home for his family's 25-year-old shoe manufacturing company. When American Can Company, one of the city's oldest and busiest industrial complexes, offered an attractive deal on a vacant Third Street building, Markoulis gladly took them up. The new abode reinvigorated the company, transforming it from a street corner location to a community space housing more than 285 businesses — now including graphic designers, commercial photographers, architects, light industrial manufacturers, a winery, a yoga center, a martial arts studio, and a medley of Web-based companies and art collectives. That expansive spirit soon spread, helping to reinvigorate the entire Dogpatch area, which had suffered a lengthy period of industrial decline.

Thirty-seven years later, AIC still keeps the family ethos alive. When making executive decisions, Greg Makoulis says the company's priorities align much more with how relatives interact with one another rather than those of a typical business. "The ideas of the oldest generation with the most experience are considered first," says Markoulis.

As this side of town is rapidly undergoing gentrification, he could very well have sold the building to a corporation. But he sees his tenants as valuable community members, not just paychecks. Markoulis thrives on finding working solutions to accommodate his tenants, and respects the fact that people's needs are ever-changing. Markoulis describes AIC's priority to be "giving everyone a stable place to operate in."

In Markoulis' experience, one of the biggest challenges that AIC has faced over the years has to do with the cost and time for newly opening businesses to acquire permits. He hopes to see changes in San Francisco's building and planning department, because he thinks a faster turnaround would help foster employment opportunities. (Soojin Chang)