For Tessa Arneson, founder of the Maven District, the mural in their courtyard says it all.
Titled “Women for Women,” it’s painted by local artist Brooke Smart, and it’s an image of women lifting each other up into the sky.
“It’s the first mural she did for us,” Arneson said. “It’s the essence of this — you get lifted up, and then you turn around and lift someone else up. That’s how we hope the selection of tenants [works], how the businesses operate, how our customers feel supported. We talk about that over and over and over.”
Since then, Smart has also painted a mural for Maven West, at 900 South and 300 West, in the building that houses The Dough Miner. She’s also done a mini-mural for Maven’s newest tenant, The Juice Shop. “Our goal is to have a mural for every project,” Arneson said.
When Arneson acquired her first building on 900 South in 2015 as she began to build Maven, she said the only businesses nearby were Randy’s Records, which had been there since the ‘70s, an H&R Block, and a brand-new vegan patisserie, Passion Flour, started by then-24-year-old Jessica Davies.
Seven years later, Randy’s and Passion Flour are still there — along with 14 other street-facing businesses. And another new shop, Pantry Products, which offers eco-friendly bulk fill bins, will open in October.
Upstairs, there are more businesses of all sizes and types. Maven Create offers small, affordable offices and co-working spaces to freelancers and startups; Maven Strong focuses on fitness, including Arenson’s Pilates studio; and Maven Well offers beauty and health services.
“Right now, we are a collection of 70-plus businesses, and 75% of them are female,” Arenson said.
That was organic, she added. When Maven started, she wanted a district that was all-local, and supported new, innovative businesses started by underserved founders.
“Now, it’s something we push into, because when I think about who we want to serve, we try and think about who needs it the most,” she said. “Who has the hardest time starting a business? Women are considered a risky investment. They have the hardest time getting financing.”
Yet when women reach a point of financial stability, Arneson said, “they put that back into the community, rather than hold it all themselves. It’s that sharing of resources — we want to teach people how to do that.”
Maven focuses on first-time or second-time entrepreneurs, Arneson said, and makes the process of starting a business and renting a space as affordable and easy as possible. Freelancers upstairs pay as little as $400 a month for office space. Deposits for street-facing spaces are only $2,000, and leases are simple, straightforward and only two pages long.
And, like Smart’s mural, the people running businesses that are stable and flourishing offer a net of support to the newer arrivals.
Two of those long-running businesses are Chip Cookies, which opened its first storefront here in 2017 and now has eight locations, and the cult sweet shop Normal Ice Cream. “Alexa, the woman who owns it, is a trained pastry chef,” Arneson said. “She makes her own sprinkles. Have you ever had a homemade sprinkle?”
Davies — the other classically trained pastry chef on the block — remembers being surrounded by empty buildings. When Normal moved in, she said, Alexa Norlin designed her storefront to match Passion Flour’s. And then it accelerated from there.
“It’s kind of crazy how the area has developed in just seven years or so,” she said. “It’s been cool to feel like you’re part of a community with other business owners. It makes it feel a little less intimidating to discuss business with other people. It doesn’t feel competitive, but more like a community.”
Davies said having the extra foot traffic has been huge, especially when she has a new person cross her threshold who’s never had one of her vegan croissants. It was hard to nail, she said, because the French “love their full-fat butter,” so she spent months developing a vegan alternative — through trial-and-error, studying other croissants and doing taste tests with her family.
“I’d see how close I could get it in texture, flavor, layers and things like that,” she said. “I always make a joke about how my pastries and my cakes got approved, because my parents were the hardest to win over,” she added, with a laugh.
“It’s cool that these shops are curated, all these businesses that offer food,” Davies said, noting her neighbors Normal, La Barba Coffee and nonalcoholic bar Curiosity.
“We have a lot of cross foot-traffic, and I’ll get someone who’ll come in and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m breastfeeding but my baby’s allergic to milk and I haven’t had a croissant in so long,’ and they’re so excited,” she said. “And we have people who normally wouldn’t try vegan food. It’s cool because of the way they’ve curated it, and how people are walking the district.”
Most of Maven’s businesses are now on the 900 South block — with the Dough Miner at Maven West, on 300 West, a notable exception. Construction is underway across 900 South on the next phase of the project, which Arneson said should be completed next spring. That building will feature eight spaces at 500 square feet each, and one larger space, at about 1,500-to-2,000 square feet.
Those “micro units,” she said, are small on purpose.
“We have lots of businesses that want to come and take multiples of those, and we tell them no, because we want diversity in the businesses that we have,” she said. “That’s a very manageable rent for someone to start a business, right? Well, it definitely might attract newer businesses.” She said she’d love to have a Gen Z-centric thrift store on that block, and maybe a grocery store in the larger space.
Some of those future businesses may be making an appearance at Maven’s Outdoor Market on Saturday, Sept. 24, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“It’s in the parking lot behind Maven Create,” Arenson said. “We usually have around 40-ish vendors. I keep reiterating this, because it’s such an important piece for us, but people often are in a market setting before they go to a brick-and-mortar. These are baby steps for people, they get to test out this business idea.”
Arenson said several hundred people usually come through, and it has a fun feel, like a block party. “It’s also where we scope out potential new vendors, because we’re always looking for who is next,” she said. “What do we not have on the block, or who do we not have on the block?”
Or maybe they’ll end up as part of Arneson’s next, much larger venture: Over the next three years, Maven will be developing a 200,000-square-foot mixed use project at 1815 State St., which is now in its architectural planning phase.
“In anywhere from six months to a year, you’ll start to see things starting to change shape,” Arneson said. “This is a big test. Can we pick up this big idea, and re-do it in a difficult area, like State Street historically has been? And will it work? So it’s an experiment. But that’s what you have to do. And it’ll be fun.”
What’s at the Maven District?
Here’s a roundup of businesses in the Maven District, at 900 South and 200 East:
Planted Salon • 145 E. 900 South, #1 • plantedsalon.com • Hair salon.
Paige Jean Tattoos • 145 E. 900 South, #5 • instagram.com/paigejeantattoos • Tattoo artists.
RMC Counseling • 145 E. 900 South, #6 • https://www.rmcslc.com • Counseling services.
Still SLC • 145 E. 900 South, Suite #4 • stillslc.com • Beauty treatment, such as Botox.
Curiosity • 145 E. 900 South • curiosityslc.com • Non-alcoholic beverages and bar.
Chip Cookies • 155 E. 900 South #101 • chipcookies.co • Cookie makers.
La Barba Coffee • 155 E. 900 South • labarbacoffee.com • Coffee shop.
Randy’s Record Shop • 157 E. 900 South • randysrecords.com • Classic record store.
Passion Flour Patisserie • 165 E. 900 South • passionflourslc.com • Vegan pastry shop and cafe.
Jed’s Barber Shop • 167 E. 900 South • jedsbarbershop.com • Classic barber shop.
Normal Ice Cream • 169 E 900 South • www.normal.club • Gourmet ice cream shop.
The Land of Salt • 177 E. 900 South • thelandofsalt.com • Handcrafted jewelry.
Koo de Ker • 177 E. 900 South • koodeker.com • Women’s clothing boutique.
Mineral and Matter • 177 E. 900 South • mineralandmatter.com • Jewelry and apothecary.
Nova Nail Bar • 177 E. 900 South (inside Mineral and Matter) • novanailbar.com • Nail salon.
Chantel Lauren • 888 S. 200 East • chantellauren.com • Bridal dress designer.
The Juice Shop • 888 S. 200 East • thejuiceshopslc.com • Juicery and wellness.
And, at Maven West, at 900 South and 300 West:
The Dough Miner • 945 S 300 W #101 • doughminer.com • Bakery, specializing in Cornish pasties.