Developer helping businesses get off the ground

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You may have heard about the company Cedar Street, which in recent years has bought up several vintage Chicago buildings, turning them into micro apartments with retail space on the bottom.

Utilizing that retail space the company started the FLATS Project, a small business and community accelerator designed to give would-be business owners a supportive nudge in reaching their goals.

Michael Stejskal was a furniture designer for 10 years before he stepped away from his computer and into his newfound passion: barber school. But when he decided two years ago to open a barbershop and take his craft to the masses, Stejskal said he didn’t know where to begin.

“I think there’s a lot of hurdles to jump over with maintaining a business and growing a business, but actually starting it from conception to execution is the most difficult part,” Stejskal said.

Nevertheless, today he’s the man behind The Public Barber in Uptown. That’s thanks in part to the FLATS Project, which connected Stejskal with a year of free rent, along with access to designers, a marketing team, and legal experts.

Mark Heffron is a partner at Cedar Street, and he said it’s a response in part to a constant conversation heard at community meetings and business development organizations about growing local businesses.

“People are asking for home grown retail, people are asking to bring that creative kind of life back to these vacant storefronts,” Heffron said.

Public Barber was just the first winning business chosen by Cedar Street. The company is now rehabbing the historic Lawrence House near Lawrence and Sheridan into more than 370 apartments and retail spaces, one of which will house its next up-and-coming business.

Hopefuls apply online and then residents and businesses of the 46th ward help select the winner. The rest is up to them.

Stejskal said in just over year he’s hired four other barbers, and together they host hundreds of clients a month, with no signs of slowing.

“It started with just the door open and me behind a chair,” he said. “We continue to grow and continue to get busier so I see nothing but sunshine in our business future.”