Shipping containers put big business dreams in small spaces

SALT LAKE CITY — Bright blue shipping containers are catching eyes in Salt Lake City’s Granary District as the newest place for businesses to set up shop.

It’s just 150 square feet, but it comes fully equipped with a 12 foot storefront, heating, air conditioning and electricity.

“It’s cutting edge,” said Lara Fritts, Salt Lake City’s Department of Economic Development Director.

Bringing a new meaning to the term “small business” with a 40-foot shipping container, re-imagined into two separate store fronts.

“What we’re doing is unconventional in just about every way,” said Little City co-founder, Tim Sullivan.

“There’s lots of store fronts in town but there aren’t any store fronts that are quite like this,” Little City’s other co-founder Michael Yount laughed.

Taking a look inside of these miniature storefronts, it looks like any other office space; lighting, drywall, insulation, base board and electric outlets. On the outside, you’ll find event space complete with planters, seating and lighting.

Sullivan said developing the outside is just as important as the inside, in order to, “show the different idea of what a street can be and the different interaction between development and the street.”

“Part of the idea was to build a public space that was open to everybody,” Sullivan said. “In a neighborhood that really doesn’t have that much of it.”

It’s all part of a new wave of development.

“Why can’t we do development in a small way? You could call it a micro-development,” Sullivan said.

But these micro-developments could just be the solution to a larger problem, the high cost of starting and operating a small business in the city.

“It’s an evolution of development in Salt Lake City,” Fritts said. “When you’re talking about somebody who is starting their very first business, who is trying to get their product into the market, taking on a long term lease and long term cost… it’s just not feasible.”

That’s where this little city comes in.

“Provide more affordable space to folks who may be getting pushed out, because commercial space in Salt Lake has gotten more and more expensive,” Sullivan said.

The idea is to take an up-and-coming area and transform it.

“It’s taking undeveloped, or underutilized space and activating it with public space and commercial spaces,” Sullivan said.

Ultimately providing an opportunity for someone who otherwise couldn’t afford one.

“We’re looking a lot at the maker community, somebody who may be an artist or an artisan,” Yount said. “Someone like that needs a place to be able to sell their goods but also have a workshop. Kind of a first step in an entrepreneur's growth as a business.”

The city believes this is just another way Salt Lake needs to change in order to stay successful.

“Retail is changing, people are buying online so in order to be competitive, we have to be innovative,” Fritts said.

Part of that innovation is creating an environment people want to be in.

“The reality is people want to live in cool places,” Fritts explained. “We need to make sure that we’re fostering that next generation of businesses that we want to take our family to when they come to visit.”

Little City said this container, known as the Fleet project, is just the beginning. It is also a temporary project. After two or three years, the intention is to move the containers to another new area in the city.

“We’re really just getting started on the types of things that we can do, even within a small space,” Sullivan said.

Little City is currently looking for businesses to occupy the spaces. They expect the units to be completed within the next week.