Towards the end of 2023 our dear friend and former GSP teammate Corey Zehngebot came by the office for lunch. It got me thinking about something Corey said often, which has stuck with me and become part of my own lexicon: “information wants to be freed.”

Corey always asserted (and practiced) that hoarding knowledge and know-how as if it was a private asset provides wildly limited utility. The public sector of course gets this far better than the private sector (and Corey came to GSP via the BPDA); as the private sector too often treats practical knowledge and learned experience as intellectual property that needs to be tightly guarded.

For example, understanding the zoning process in Boston doesn’t need to be reserved to those with terminal degrees, nor does being able to read a lease, nor navigating the regulatory process in MA to obtain a liquor license. But so many industries and professions within the real estate community rely upon the grey area (and complexity) in our regulatory and legal regimes to build their own practices (the “experts”). I did this too, when I was practicing law.

I’ll never forget an experience I had in the early days of Graffito (2010ish) while speaking about our work at a conference re: restaurant development in Greater Boston. In response to a question about how we can get more local (vs. chain) restaurants into our towns and cities I suggested we all work harder to demystify permitting and licensing in our respective municipalities so that small businesses have the option to navigate the public process on their own. What I assumed would be a very popular idea was not, largely because of my failure to understand the room I was in. I was entirely unprepared for one of the lawyers in attendance to jump out of his seat and correct the “young man” (I didn’t have all this white hair back then) for suggesting that any of the restaurant owners in the room didn’t need a competent and experience attorney to assist them in their licensing and permitting work… And then the resulting piling on of (mostly white men like me, and mostly all lawyers) telling the room how important having the “right lawyer” and “right set of experts” was to being a successful restaurateur…

What these guys failed to realize was that I was not suggesting that small businesses needn’t ever engage lawyers and consultants and expediters, but I was planting the idea that if we lowered the barriers of entry for local restaurateurs to actually get into business then there would be so much more work and wealth to go around for so many more people… But when you are in charge, when you are one of the ‘haves’ with the know-how, the connections within the system, and the power that comes with such, it can be hard to comprehend (or allow) a paradigm shift away from a zero-sum game to a more-is-more regime.

Slowing down in 2022 and 2023 helped Graffito accept that a more-is-more approach is possible in our little corner of the world. It’s often more work, but we want to be enablers not gatekeepers. And we believe we have the collective skills and practical knowledge to make some strides in this department: to further empower and educate local retailers, restaurateurs, and creatives. One of the best examples of this work in 2023 is our recently released Small Business Tool Kit.

This body of work was a huge undertaking, one that has been touched by every member of the Graffito team. It was created based on our desire to further lower the barriers of entry for small local owner-operated business seeking to lease commercial real estate in mixed use projects, particularly those entrepreneurs from historically marginalized communities. We are proud of this work, and invite you to explore it, use it, and share it:

This Tool Kit and corresponding “Tenant Roadmap to Retail Leasing” will help landlords and tenants come to transactions (and leave said transactions) better prepared for long term success. And we are committed to improving the Toolkit — in Q4 we held small business workshops with both the City of Cambridge and Lawyers for Civil Right to to understand how it can be bettered and made more user friendly. Next month we’ll be launching a robust online version of the Roadmap and associated documents. We have also been working with a few different law firms on a form lease that may spur some of you to reconsider that 95 page document you currently use for 800 SF retail tenants 😉

All of this work, in concert with the addition to the Graffito team of two new very exciting hires is a result of our deliberate slowdown of 2022/23. It’s been great — and valuable — but we are excited to pick up the pace a bit in 2024!

See you out there, thanks for your partnership, and happy new year.

Onward to 2024,


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