In a kitchen off Main Street in Norwich, Gurpreet Singh is living his dream.
"I love it," said Singh, as he cooked an Indian dish from scratch for a customer.
Singh opened Royal Punjabi Indian Restaurant in 2018. He said that he specifically opened his business in Norwich because the community was welcoming to different cultures.
"It matters to me," said Singh.
It also matters to Suki Lagrito.
"We all want to be accepted and we all want to be acknowledged," said Lagrito.
Lagrito is the liaison for Global City Norwich, a multi-year project supporting the revitalization of Downtown Norwich.
Global City is powered by the Norwich Community Development Corporation, the city's economic development agency, and funded through a grant from the Chelsea Groton Foundation.
"It aims to motivate and activate economic development in the downtown," said Robert Mills, President of NCDC.
Global City is a unique revitalization model, according to Mills. Instead of starting off by just addressing empty storefronts in the city, Global City works to fill empty storefronts by first engaging with the community.
"It is inverting what we do in economic development because we really just try to get the storefronts filled and this brings the audience and the people downtown," said Mills.
For the first two years of the program, Global City focused on engaging the many cultures and communities that make up the City of Norwich.
The team hosts 10 different festivals each year including a Cape Verdean festival, Peruvian festival and a Polish festival, among others.
"Before Global City, there was not a festival that honored and paid homage to those communities," said Lagrito.
According to Lagrito, the festivals brought more than 20,000 people downtown who otherwise might not have had a reason to go to historic downtown Norwich.
"It helps you realize that we are all really not that different," said Lagrito. "And if you can achieve that, you can achieve anything, like opening up a business."
The first goal of Global City Norwich was to engage the community and welcome people to the downtown area.
The second year, according to Lagrito, was spent cultivating entrepreneurs in the community and helping to remove barriers that may keep people from opening a business. Global City provides a series of free and low cost small business seminars.
Now into its third and final year of grant funding, Global City is building on the first two years of the program. The third year will focus on identifying multicultural entrepreneurs and small business owners who want to fill empty storefronts in the City of Norwich.
"These are all building blocks in order to achieve a goal," said Lagrito.
Global City will still host festivals and small business workshops, but now will add on the new goal of filling the storefronts.
Businesses have moved to downtown since Global City was launched including Royal Punjabi, S&A Asian Market, Apollo Cycles, Woombs and Wankle boutique and several more. However, there is still room to grow.
According to NCDC, there are about 12,000 square feet of empty first floor storefront space in the city. While you may notice a lot of empty storefronts, though, only about 1,200 square feet of storefront space is move-in ready in the city, creating an additional challenge for the Global City team.
"Some of these spaces don't have floors, most don't have heat or electricity," said Mills.
For example, an empty storefront on Broadway would cost a business owner about $60,000 just to make the space viable for a business to operate out of. Mills explained that the extra cost and barrier would be very difficult for a first-time business owner to tackle.
Global City's third goal of filling the empty storefronts is complex and will take time, said Mills, but it is important that the efforts are launched this year. The Global City team will spend the next year working with property owners, identifying grant-funding and starting the process to make the spaces business ready.
"It is going to begin to make downtown feel more alive when we can activate those spaces," said Mills.