Olvera Street is known as the historic heart and birthplace of Los Angeles. Businesses there have long relied on foot traffic and tourism to survive, but the pandemic proved that model is dangerously outdated. 

What You Need To Know

  • A program called LA Optimized is helping small businesses market themselves online

  • The city of Los Angeles partnered with creatives from ArtCenter College of Design, USC, and OTIS to connect businesses with graphic artists, photographers and web designers

  • The creatives get $500 to provide services to small businesses, many in low-income and minority communities

  • The hope is to build working relationships that are mutually beneficial and provide e-commerce tools for the future

"Anything to help this business get to the next generation," said Greg Berber, a third-generation owner of the Mexican restaurant La Luz Del Dia.

In fact, only three of the 73 businesses on Olvera Street have websites.

"I’ve researched just to redo a logo, do marketing materials and all that and it can cost up to $10,000," Berber said.

But he’s among dozens of businesses here now getting help to start or improve their online offerings for free through a city initiative called LA Optimized— a local partnership connecting small businesses particularly in low-income and minority communities with design and technology services.

"As soon as you get to the main page, you can order online," Berber said.  "If you don’t make it easy for the user to order their food, then they’re just going to go somewhere else."

"Customers are really expecting a digital-first approach. They look at Instagram. They look at Yelp. They look at Google and they make their decision," said Robbie Nock, director of entrepreneurship and professional practice at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena.

The city of Los Angeles partnered with the ArtCenter to match creative professionals with struggling small businesses. The creatives get a $500 grant from the city to provide their expertise and build a relationship.

Keri Freeman is a passionate graphic designer who has worked extensively downtown and is proud to lend her expertise.

"There’s so many people of color here that were just going unnoticed. Their stories weren’t being told," Freeman said.

Luis Felix says he’s enjoyed getting to know the local business owners— many of whom have never worked with a professional photographer. Felix says he spent two full days taking photos for more than 50 businesses here.

"Just get 'em some good photographs to hopefully draw people in to visit their store," Felix said. 

But even as restrictions are lifted and customers return to brick and mortar stores, having an online presence could be key to their recovery, allowing them to reach more customers—wherever they are.

"That’s going to really help them not just survive the pandemic, but enter into the next 20 or 30 years of life as a small business," Nock said.

And Berber knows adapting to this fast-paced digital marketplace is his best recipe for success. 

"I want my daughter to have a chance if she wants to continue the family legacy on Olvera Street," Berber said.