Making Las Vegas local again

Las Vegas native, Ashley Ayala, has big dreams for small businesses.
Photo courtesy of Brittany Loeffelholz.

Downtown Las Vegas: home of some of the most popular bars and gastropubs in the city and a magnet for tourists from all over the world. But beyond the mixed drinks and neon lights is a collective of local makers and creatives who aim to shine a spotlight on their small but mighty, locally-driven community. 

Among that collective is one Las Vegas native, whose passion for collaboration over competition shines through in multiple areas of the Downtown Las Vegas revitalization.

“I feel like there’s a group of people in Vegas working to make our city — and culture in general — more community-based, like Santa Cruz and Portland,” said Ashley Ayala, co-curator, creative director and ethical merchandising strategist of The Workshop Downtown, co-curator of Market in the Alley and content creator for Fergusons Downtown. “At first I had this mindset of, ‘Well I don’t want to do it! Somebody else could do it!’ But then I had this mind shift and thought, ‘Well, what if I help cultivate that? What if I bring innovative ideas and find other people who think like me, and then put our brains together and make cool things happen?’”

Ashley Ayala working at the November Market in the Alley event. Photo by Andrea Lee Simbulan.

Having grown up in the east side of Las Vegas, Ayala watched the city evolve from the gaudy glitz and glamour of the nineties, to the trendy scene of the ever-growing Life is Beautiful Festival. However, her inspiration to cultivate the area came after moving to Santa Cruz to find a smaller, tighter-knit community. Ayala realized that what she was looking for was waiting for her back home.

Ayala and Kelly Bennett, creative director of local vegan restaurant VegeNation, began holding bi-annual workshops in 2018, supplying local creatives and small business owners with useful tools to support the growth of their businesses. They added a third member to their creative team in 2019.

“We have always been a good team when it comes to checking things off the to-do list,” said Jess Sells, founder of paper design company Grace Ink + Lace, and co-curator and email marketing manager of The Workshop Downtown. “We all balance each other out really well.”

Fergusons Motel sign. Photo by Andrea Lee Simbulan.

In 2017, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh and his business partner Jen Taler, buyer for Zappos, purchased the vacant Fergusons Motel, formerly known as the Franklin Motel in the 1940s. Their goal was to create a neighborhood rooted in community, celebrating local creatives, musicians and artisans. Under the Fergusons umbrella is Market in the Alley, a monthly market kickstarted by Taler, in the alley located directly across the street from Fergusons Motel every third Saturday of the month.

Ayala began her involvement with Fergusons Downtown as one of the 12 vendors at the original Market in the Alley, selling goods from her then-business Sister House Collective. After expressing interest in becoming more involved with the planning side of Market in the Alley, the monthly market was turned over to Ayala and Bennett in January 2019.

“I love working with Ashley and Kelly,” said Beth Di Angelo, founder of The Woven Willow and vendor at Market in the Alley. “They create a seamless experience for their vendors. You can tell how much they care about us and serving the greater good of the Las Vegas community.”

Ayala and Bennett hosted a Market in the Alley pop-up at the 2019 Life is Beautiful Festival and counted 14,000 people attending the market over the course of the three-day weekend. Of those 14,000 were about 100 people who returned to the market multiple times, Ayala said. 

Screenshot of The Workshop Downtown’s Instagram page. Photo courtesy of Instagram.

Ayala credits a lot of the pop-up’s foot traffic to social media. Social media has become a vital tool in marketing for Ayala. Ayala said that many of The Workshop Downtown’s workshops are devoted entirely to social media marketing.

“Social media is the biggest tool for reaching people right now,” Ayala said. “So many people spend time on their phones.”

Ayala said that Instagram stories are especially useful because they invite followers to see what goes on behind the scenes behind an event. This allows the followers to feel involved in the set-up process.

Ayala knows firsthand how hard it is to start a small business.

“When you’re alone doing it, it’s kind of lonely and difficult to navigate, especially when it’s a very innovative concept that hasn’t really been done before,” Ayala said. “I’d say, find other people with a similar mindset, attend workshops and events to network, be authentic and if you don’t know something, don’t be afraid to ask!”

The Workshop Downtown hosts multiple workshops monthly. Dates and times are posted on their website as well as their Instagram account @theworkshopdowntown.

December’s Market in the Alley will be held from 6 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 14, and noon to 4 p.m. on Dec. 15. The free event will feature over 75 local artisans and creatives, with some being present both days.

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