Work Life

Charlotte’s Area 15 small business hub is thriving. Here’s why

With vision and foresight, Arlene and Carlos Espin started Area 15 as a small business incubator in a warehouse in Optimist Park in 2002.  Because of their continuous work and vision, today Area 15 just north of uptown houses over 13 businesses and is a strong presence in the neighborhoods and communities surrounding it.

Photo 2 Credit VMI

Robert Forquer, real estate attorney and part owner of Area 15, came to this project in 2008 through his volunteer work with The Free Store. Before his involvement, Forquer explains, “The Free Store was a group of people who met on Saturday at the park and bartered items or services, like music lessons for a lawnmower.”  It later moved to an old building on Parkwood, and then with Forquer’s help, to its final destination behind Area 15.

Photo 3 Credit VMI

Area 15’s success can be measured on a few levels – growth, sustainability and relationships. Not Just Coffee is a perfect example of how a small business outgrew its Area 15 space and moved on and up.

Trips for Kids is a bike recyclery and mentoring program sustainable through volunteers, community bike donations and bike sales. Housed for more than 10 years at Area 15, its focus has remained the same – introduce kids who might not have the means or opportunity to mountain bike ride and encourage confidence and an appreciation for the outdoors.

Forquer describes the friendships he has formed: “It is a great opportunity to learn the unique story behind each person and appreciate the struggles they have had to overcome to get here.” Forquer also shared that it has been interesting to see (and sometimes be a part of) Dragon Moonshine’s research and development process.

When I walked around Area 15, I had the opportunity to meet many of the business owners. Their positive attitude toward each other and the support they felt from one another was clearly evident. A few of my impromptu meetings ended in hugs (and I am totally not a hugger). That day, I made a few friends and learned a whole bunch.

 Area 15 businesses

Art By Abel: Paints murals and other commissions with air-brush and acrylics. According to artist Abel Jackson “I like the freedom and idea of Area 15 as a business incubator. I have the chance to be successful.”

DressingRoomsInteriors-The Studio: Offer a varied artistic collection of vintage furniture and fresh color combos mixed with ethnic home décor pieces.

Photo 4 Credit Ariene Bethea
Dragon Moonshine Company

eMotionsByerica Photograph family, corporate, events, prom and more.

Free Store “Give what you want, take what you need.”

Group 15 Real Estate Manage residential property and sell single family homes in the Belmont, Plaza-Midwood and Uptown areas.

Heroic Fitness Offer life changing, weight loss and fitness transformation.

The House of LeMond Focus on classic vintage men’s clothing, custom suits and denim lines. LeMond Hart: “Area 15 is a small business hub. Individuals can start and grow a business without a lot of requirements. They give us opportunities to be exposed and it’s community oriented.”

Ink n Fusion Tattoo Studio Specialize in custom tattoos and cover-ups.

Simbryo Makes video games.

Soulejukebox Produce music and videos, designs logos and album covers.

Trips for Kids Provide mentoring program for 10-15 year olds.

X3M Arts Print t-shirts, business cards, banners and brochures.

Photo 5 Credit VMI

Feature photo: James Willamor/Flickr. Photos: Area 15, Ariene Bethea, Vanessa Infanzon