One of the most common questions we get at the Chamber of Commerce is “How do I open a business in Mountain View?”
Several times every week, people walk in our front door of the Chamber of Commerce and tell us their dreams of starting a business in our city. Most of these potential business owners are talking about brick-and-mortar store fronts and they want us to steer them in the right direction. Obviously the process varies tremendously, depending on what kind of business they’ll be opening and what the building has been used for in the past, but we do our best to answer a few basic questions.
I asked Alex Andrade (Alex.Andrade@mountainview.gov), the Mountain View Economic Development Manager if he had any tips to add to this article and he offered to walk Dawn Maher (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I through the process. The imaginary business that we used as we walked through the planning process was a steak house and it was going to be opening in the old Books Inc. location. I wanted our “pretend business” to be a restaurant, since so many of the people who come to the Chamber and say that they want to open a business, are talking about a restaurant, and they want it to be on Castro Street, or within the downtown zone.
You would be amazed at how common it is to walk into the Chamber of Commerce and start asking questions on this topic. Sometimes, the people are serious and have done some homework, and have some kind of funding and some restaurant experience, other times, they are not even close.
First thing I need to say is, it is difficult and expensive to set up shop in our little city, so you better be prepared and get all the help you possibly can, if you decide to do it.
This very simplified chart is what we came up with…
Start with a pre-planning check list of: a business plan, a location/building, financing, and an architect. After the Planning Department has approved your zoning, parking, and provisional/conditional use permit, which includes a public hearing, you’ll head to the Finance Department. Many prospective business owners end up stopping once they find out how expensive the ‘parking in lieu fees’ are. Once again, it is incredibly expensive to open a business here.
Finance Dept is where you’ll get your business license. Bring your Health Certificate with you. You may end up going back and forth between several of the city divisions, but it’s all in one building and that’s how it works.
You should definitely have a meeting with the Economic Department, Alex, mentioned above, because he knows the local architects, engineers and contracts and you’ll save lots of time and money by talking to the people who have helps hundreds of businesses open. There's no reason to try to figure it all out on your own, when there are experts who do this everyday. I don’t think he’s allowed to recommend people to hire, but he’s worked with many of them and it’s his job to help you navigate the waters of setting up shop here.
The Building Department is where your architect/project manager will submit all your plans and tenant improvements. As long as you have funding, and good luck on your side, the entire process could take anywhere from 6 months to a year. Once again, be prepared to hire people to help you get through the process.
These two websites are the best place to start: mountainview.gov and sccgov.org/business and as soon as your doors are ready to open, please contact the Chamber to schedule your official Grand Opening Ribbon Cutting Ceremony. We’ll bring some government officials, a bunch of leaders in the community, and lots of curious residents and Chamber members, who can’t wait to spend money at your new business. I love Mountain View.