Unusual business ideas

by Eric Ginsburg

School turned into weekend hotspot

Portland, Ore. may be hip, but with good reason. Among other things, there are a number of $3 movie theaters. I checked out one that occupies an out-ofuse elementary school. In addition to watching movies from a couch, patrons at the Kennedy School can indulge in multiple bars, a soaking pool and even stay over night in rooms for rent. I kid you not!

Flip for your drink

Speaking of hipsterdom, I visited some friends in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Knowing I wasn’t used to spending more than $2 on a beer, my friend took me to the Berry Park. One night a week before 9 p.m., the bartender will flip you for your drink. If you call it correctly, your drink is free. The first round was on the house, and we drank it on the rooftop overlooking Manhattan.

The Delancey Street Foundation

Started in San Francisco and replicated in Greensboro, the Delancey Street Foundation is “the country’s leading self-help organization for former substance abusers, ex-convicts, homeless and others who have hit rock bottom.” Residents hold each other accountable and the model is incredibly successful. The organization runs 12 businesses to employ participants, some of which are active in Greensboro.

Self-serve yogurt bars

My personal favorite — Feeney’s — has locations in both Greensboro and High Point, and owners plan to open a location in Kernersville. Frogurt recently opened in Winston-Salem, and Greensboro also boasts Taste Yogurt Bar and Frozato. The idea is simple- these places turn frozen yogurt into a buffet of yogurt and topping options. Once you’ve built your masterpiece, you pay per ounce.

Seed bombs and oatmeal bars

Green Bean manager Zeke Vantreese is full of business ideas, some of which he’s already executed. A glassblower by trade, he owns Rewined Recycled Glassware. He’s considered opening an oatmeal bar similar to self-serve yogurt shops. Vantreese’s latest project is refitting gumball machines to dispense clay “seed bombs” that can be thrown into vacant lots to spawn plant growth. He hopes to unveil six of them in March, and all proceeds will go to Urban Harvest.

The Green Bay Packers

Besides winning the Super Bowl, the Packers can also brag about their unusual financial structure; they are the only community-owned non-profit professional sports team in the country. Shareholders don’t profit off their investment, but instead have a say in the team. There is a limit to how many shares one person can own, which is probably why the Packers haven’t been bought out and moved to a much larger city than Green Bay.

Free bacon baskets

While driving from Greensboro to San Francisco in October, I demanded we stop in Minneapolis so I could see some friends. My traveling partners reluctantly agreed, but later concurred it was one of our best stops, thanks in no small part to bacon. In Dinkytown, we wandered into a bar called the Library in the middle of a Twins game. We lucked out because it was a Wednesday, which means cheap PBR tallboys and free bacon baskets.

Local currency

A number of towns have experimented with local currency, including Ithaca hours, Great Barrington’s Berkshares and the Pittsboro plenty. The idea is to create savings for customers as they shop at local businesses, which in turn supports the local economy. Usually the currency is pegged to the dollar and can be exchanged at a bank, assuaging concerns of many. The Greensboro Currency Project hopes to bring the model here.

PB & Java

Charlie and Ruth Jones bought a building a few doors down from Elsewhere Artist Collaborative and plan to offer peanut butter and jelly “sammiches” and coffee at “PB & Java.” The Jones’ worked in theater for 25 years and intend to build a community stage in the back. The second floor will include space for 20-25 people to do residential studies while the Jones’ live on the third floor. They hope to open in July or August.

Worker-owned businesses

The horizontal ownership and management structure of a worker-owned business or cooperative allows for more equal and democratic control of a venture. They are popular throughout the world and people here, like Firestorm Café & Books in Asheville, are starting to catch on. The Greensboro-based Fund 4 Democratic Communities is interested in exploring business models like this as well.