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Downtown’s Hidden Gems

Every day we have a choice. We can support an up and coming podcaster, try a new family-run restaurant, join a boutique gym started by a local fitness champ or we could keep giving away our money to the handful of giants who already control so much of our commerce. Our daily decisions impact the kind world we live in; if we want a world where small businesses are growing and artists and creatives are thriving then we should support them with our time, money and attention. We’re proud to highlight inspiring creatives and entrepreneurs each week in Hidden Gems series.  Check out some of downtown’s gems below.

Madin Lopez

Madin Ray Lopez, 32, is the founder of ProjectQ. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Madin began doing hair in high school. They knew very early on that they wanted to do hair for a living because it was a reliable career that also allowed them to use their creativity. Having experienced much trauma as a child, Madin made it their life’s mission to help LGBTQIA youth. Read more>>

Ryan Richard Clark

I am a Boston street artist. I did my art studies/schooling in Boston & NYC and saved up money and moved my small business to Los Angeles where I now currently work out of a collab studio (the Allied Studio LA). I evolved from tagging buildings to painting for galleries to now fitting some of Hollywoods most beautiful in custom clothes. Read more>>

Murdock M.P.

My story started in the small town of Locarno in Switzerland. Growing up, I spent a lot of time watching movies, reading books, and getting lost in their stories. The ability to create new worlds with their own rules and allow people to escape reality in them is what fascinated me, but not just as a viewer; I was eager to know the secrets of filmmaking, I wanted to learn the ability to translate imagination into real images. Read more>>

Cesar “Valentino” Valdizan

Since I was a kid, I wanted to do something big for Peru. My grandpa had a big influence on fueling my entrepreneur spirit, constantly encouraging me to do something great for Peru. My whole childhood, I had seen the level of injustice and unfair poverty Peru was filled with. I had seen how foreign companies made money from Peru but did little for the Peruvians. Read more>>

Khari Jones Jr

I started in Chicago playing junior college basketball for Harry S. Truman & Joliet Junior College for two years. Obtaining a four-year degree was the last thing on my mind. My only focus was on basketball. Shortly after I attended Purdue University, where I played ball with the Men’s team occasionally at private sessions. After one-year at Purdue, I transferred to Indiana State University, which ultimately was the best decision of my life. Read more>>

Leah Smithson

I love the exercise of creating something that didn’t exist in the same way as it was before. Growing up, my family bonded over classic movies & SciFi. As a kid, my back yard in Tennessee transformed into an archaeological site with buried treasures & the shadows cast from large trees were doorways into other universes. Read more>>

Melody Ector

I took my first piano lesson when I was three years old in my neighbor’s apartment in Paterson New Jersey. Growing up, music was constantly in my life. I started playing classical piano shortly after, and by the age of six, I could play through Mozart’s “Turkish March.” My parents are both jazz musicians, so I spent most of my childhood in New York City’s jazz scene. Read more>>

Chef Jonathan Wood

I graduated from The Culinary Institute of America and classically trained in French kitchens; however, my style has always embraced other influences, too. Growing up Korean-American in the Midwest, it was my Korean grandparents cooking their favorite dishes that originally inspired me. I’ve yet to find a better kimchi than my grandmothers. Read more>>

Matt and Chris Drake

Being identical twins, we did most everything together growing up from playing sports to hanging out with friends, to sharing a bedroom. We both started playing the piano at a young age (around 7 or 8), and that really started our interest in music. In middle school, we discovered garage band and started playing around with music production, but it wasn’t until high school that we got involved with dance music. Read more>>

Lisa Derrick

I am known as a curator, which is a form of art, but not one as complex as the arts which I present. I opened my own gallery in January of 2019 after independently curating for five years. I came into curating through a not “normal” way. Most curators have like degrees and stuff. Most of them have studied art history. I just really like art. Read more>>

Christy Marshall

Sartorial Splendor is an inventive fashion brand established in 2012 by a former athlete, Founder and Creative Director C.MARS (Christy Marshall). Growing up in the urban communities within Savannah, Georgia, C. Mars was inspired by her edgy cultural lifestyle and wanted to express that, by all means, necessary through her way of fashion. Read more>>

Toshiki Nakamura

I’m an engineer, dreamer, and an artist. Always curious and eager to learn new things. As a kid, I often tinkered with toys. I’d disassemble them and fiddle with their wiring to learn about their internal processes. They were like puzzles I had to solve, each one a mystery that I wanted to understand before moving onto the next one. Read more>>

Jack Mancino and Bryon Freeze

Growing up, I always watched my Mom, Grandmother, and Aunts cooking. They were always able to take minimal ingredients and create these amazing meals. When I was 14, I started working in the family restaurant. I was getting paid $5 an hour. At that time, I thought I was rich. As I got older, my love for the industry grew. I enjoyed the rush of the kitchen. Read more>>

Collin Leary

I grew up in San Clemente, California, where I spent most of my time making skateboard videos and little YoutTube skits with my friends. During sophomore year of high school (circa 2014) I started getting into the underground world of Soundcloud rap (Soundcloud in its early days was filled with new, experimental styles of rap music and tons of talent. Stuff unlike anything I had ever heard). Read more>>

Dhar Mann

I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life. From selling baseball cards at nine years old to starting a real estate mortgage company in college at 19. To making International headlines as an early pioneer in the medical marijuana industry at 25. To running the cosmetics company LiveGlam that I started with $600 and grew to over $20M in annual sales today. Read more>>

Jason Berlin

I was a TV writer for 18 years when Trump got elected – and that broke my mind and heart. After the initial coma of mourning started to wear off, I threw myself into volunteering with Swing Left and learned everything I could about how to register Democrats. After a year, I managed to get a job with the CA Democratic Party as Regional Organizer for LA County, with my amazing co-organizer Michael Tonetti. Read more>>

Lisa Burgos

We all have a story, and I do believe mine started long before I knew what I was doing. Growing up, I was extremely overweight. At 26, after losing my dad, I peaked at my heaviest (over 250lbs). I had downward spiraled and was struggling in multiple areas of my life- not just my weight. Read more>>

Rickey Junior

I started acting at a young age; I remember when me and all my siblings were growing up, there were six of us at the time, we would put on talent shows downstairs in our basement. We would just put on random performances whether they were songs or scenes from movies. I would always host as well as participate. High School was my first real attempt at acting in front of a real audience outside of my family and friends. Read more>>

Jamila Choyce

Therefore, it is an opportunity for plus-size talent and casting officials who are seeking plus size talent to meet and work together. Talent can register and submit for acting, modeling, dancing, and singing opportunities. In 2010, after being laid off as an elementary school teacher, she embarked upon the world of acting and eventually plus-size modeling. Read more>>

Jeff Galfer

Photography has served as a healing device. I still have a career as an actor, but acting has a lot of business aspects that suck the fun and joy out of it. Photography is the escape – the art form in my life that allows me to distract my mind from my mind. A way for me to be alone, explore, and interact with the world in ways I never would if I didn’t have the camera in my hand. Read more>>

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