There’s not much like early hype. When a business opens for the first time, it can experience more customers in its first few weeks than it will at any point during its first year open. Case in point: The Food Truck Court at Station 801. When it first began letting food trucks set up shop, lines snaked around the property, and customers parked blocks away to visit their favorite truck or discover a new business. Of course, the crowds aren’t that big anymore, but that’s no problem for Station 801 owner Scott Hamilton. That’s because Station 801 is far from just a food truck park now.
“We decided we wanted a facility where small start-up businesses could get a leg up,” said Hamilton. We wanted to be an incubator, a place where a small business could get their start, learn the business, learn the market, and then move on and get their own place. That way, we help to grow the city from a business perspective.”
Walk past the half dozen or so food vendors and step inside to find a number of businesses at work in the remodeled gas station. Two of the garage bays now house an indoor gym, complete with most weights and staffed by a certified personal trainer. Beyond that, you find an automobile repair shop. Step into the back, and it’s beauty salon as well as a barber shop. And the kitchen area serves as a temporary home for any number of food businesses, including a vegan chef on Friday and Sunday nights. Hamilton says he’s just trying to realize the potential he saw in the place when he first bought it.
“We started looking for ways to restructure, reinvigorate this facility,” said Hamilton. “It’s a great location, high traffic and high visibility, but it just wasn’t doing the right business.”
Hamilton’s impact on Little Rock businesses, particularly black-owned businesses, can be felt. Already his first barber shop tenant got so much business that he had to move out and set up in a larger location. Several trucks don’t even bother leaving at the end of the day, opting to stay parked and prepare for the next day’s customers. Hamilton says his goal is to help these young business owners with some of the details of the job that they might not have considered.
“I’m a lawyer by trade, and what I always saw is black businesses not really understanding all the complexities,” said Hamilton. “Your paperwork, making sure that’s done, your registration with the city, promotion and marketing, and customers service, you know. Just little things that can make a difference.”
Still, Hamilton takes a pragmatic approach when it comes to obstacles that black-owned businesses might face. In his mind, most of the roadblocks are faced by nearly every small-business owner.
“There aren’t necessarily unique challenges to a black-owned business compared to any other business,” said Hamilton. “All of it is the same. It’s having a great product, great customer service, making sure you meet the needs of your customer. It’s all about adapting to the market and delivering what your customer wants.”
Hamilton’s personal mantra of adapting to succeed clearly plays out at Station 801, which might look completely different every time you walk in. In the coming weeks, Hamilton will be welcoming a new bake shop as a tenant, serving desserts that people can buy via a walk-up window just inside the entrance. The Arkansas Heart Hospital food truck, perhaps the most popular in Little Rock, sets up regularly at Station 801. For Hamilton, his success means many other businesses have a chance that they might not otherwise get.
“I like to see people succeed. I’ve had good success in my life. I’ve been blessed with really good mentors, and I try to be the mentor now.”