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How One Mom Is Improving Los Angeles One Street at a Time

"I seem to be someone who likes to bring people together, who builds community," says Sarah Auerswald, a mother of two boys who just last year launched a Chamber of Commerce in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Mar Vista.

The gregarious Brown University graduate, former script supervisor, blogger and co-founder of parenting website MomsLA admits that she loves connecting, which can be especially difficult in a sprawling mega-city that nearly 4 million people call home —10 million if you count greater L.A. county.

"If I could get paid to just sit around and chat with people all day long," she admits, "it would be a dream come true."

Auerswald has put that decided skill to good use, by bringing moms of varied backgrounds and interests together to blog and share in paid opportunities, and now with her latest project, which in June received a grant from the City of Los Angeles.

So not only is the Mar Vista Chamber president helping moms build their own brands and serving as a strong female role model for her two sons, who are 16 and 12, she's also driving more attention (and customers) to once-skeptical business owners who are now making time when she comes knocking on their doors.

Mom.me spoke with Auerswald, who reveals the challenges of launching a chamber, her advice for other entrepreneurial moms and what she hopes to see in 2024 if Los Angeles wins that coveted Olympic bid.

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What inspired you to launch the Mar Vista Chamber of Commerce?

I guess I was looking for something new, but I wanted to build up my little blog that I started [in 2008], Mar Vista Mom. And I was thinking, why can't I build that into a business as well? So Staci Boggeri, who's now my friend and on our board, reached out. She was doing a networking group in the area and said, "Hey, why don't you come?" So we got together, and I thought, "That's cool. Hey, what else can we do around here? What if everybody in this community were doing better and then when the schools come and ask for money—or any of those nonprofits—everybody's got extra money, and then it's easy to give?" You're not asking people who are struggling; you're asking people who are doing really well.

From that, we started meeting, and then it grew and it grew, and we started bringing in speakers and answering the needs of local small businesses, social-media marketing.

I find inspiration from all the mom bloggers I know, because everyone's out there hustling.

You run a moms' website. You were a script supervisor. How did your varied experience lead you here?

I don't think anything from script supervising could have prepared me for motherhood or blogging. Actually, the only thing that translated was dealing with actors who were like children but grown-up and [with] a lot of money. I keep saying if I went back now, I would put them in time outs or something, and I would get fired immediately because I wouldn't put up with it.

[With MomsLA,] I wanted it to be a site that other people could use to do well. We could all do well with it. If we showed our might as 150 mom bloggers with a collective reach of, at the time, 5 million page views a day, then it was like, can we get opportunities for everyone to make some money to do something? So that was my goal. [Co-founders Yvonne Condes, Elise Crane Derby] and I have loved that.

What would your advice be for moms who want to be entrepreneurs?

Just do it. I would say start during nap time. What I love about an online marketplace, an online blog, a product you can sell via the Internet, is you can be anywhere. You're mobile. I really think there are endless opportunities with the Internet and working around your kids' schedule, whether they're still at home or if you have four or five hours during the day while they're in school. The best advice? Just keep trying.

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You're such a great role model for your boys. Do they ever let you know how well you're doing as a mom?

I know they don't think of me as frail and unassuming. They know I'm outspoken and I have opinions. I guess the funny thing that they said the other day: We were playing "Old Maid," the card game. I had to explain what the term meant; it was so foreign to them. And they were like, "Well, this is ridiculous. You have to rename this "Strong, Independent Woman That Don't Need No Man" game. I guess they've internalized some feminism—they're not very demonstrative or outspoken about their opinions of me.

I really think there are endless opportunities with the Internet and working around your kids' schedule.

What's the biggest challenge you've had to overcome while starting the Chamber?

So in a perfect world, I would sit down and write 150 emails and get responses from people. I would do my business from my desk if I could. But it definitely doesn't work that way, especially with small business owners. They're working, making sandwiches to sell or they're working on the cars for the auto-body shop. Whatever it is, they're not sitting at their desks. The biggest challenge is I literally have to go door to door. I call it Erin Brockovich-ing because I have to go to them and get them to sign things and join up, and at first there was definitely [the attitude of] "OK, lady, who are you and what do you want from me?" and I would say, "I don't want anything; I'm here to help you, I'm here to help market you and help you with a new platform to get the word out about your business."

There was a lot of skepticism, and then I would tell them things like, "We're doing this Small Business Saturday event where we're going to have people come shopping in your stores, and we're going to get a lot of people to come in." With the Chamber, it's just be of value, be of value.

Tell us how you're literally improving a street in Los Angeles.

Luckily for us, [Mayor Eric Garcetti, pictured above] has decided to do this amazing thing in Los Angeles—the Great Streets initiative—and so our little section of Venice Boulevard has been named a "Great Street" for our council district. So from Inglewood to Beethoven, a one-mile stretch, is the "Great Street." It's right where a lot of businesses are; it's this unbelievable opportunity for us to get some attention from the outreach that he's doing, and then he put out a challenge grant in June and we applied and got one of them.

Now we have this grant from the city, and we're going do our Small Business Saturday event this year, and it's going to be 100 times bigger than it was last year. We're calling it "Make It Mar Vista," and we're doing a ton of outreach, actual advertising, social media marketing. We're going to have a protected bike lane for the day along Venice Boulevard, parklets to show what could happen on our main street if we turn it into a Main Street instead of a highway. And what that would do for local businesses and then the trickle down, what would that do to the rest of the community.

That sounds like a lot to juggle. How do you stay organized?

It's a constant struggle. I work at being organized all the time, and I feel like I get a couple steps behind or it piles up on me—I can visually imagine it piling on top of me—and then clearing it away, and then it piles back up and then it clears away. Just like my inbox. I make a lot of lists, I put things on the calendar. I don't have a beautiful system or strategy. I've just committed to constantly working on it. It is a constant juggling act.

Los Angeles is a contender to host the 2024 Olympics. Where would you like Mar Vista to be by 2024?

Nine years. I would love to see a real main street having been created here. I would love to see some beautification—different plantings, cleaning up the trash, a protected bike lane and some parklets. I'd love to see safer crosswalks. Everyone has a different need, but they all need a safer crosswalk. A lot of people out and about, walking and enjoying the space, interacting with businesses, hopefully hanging up Olympic ring banners so they'll be part of the whole thing.

What female entrepreneurs do you look to for inspiration?

There's a woman named Amy Swift, who was the leader of a group here called Ladies Who Launch, and after that she started one called Smarty. She's great at pulling people together. I find inspiration from all the mom bloggers I know, because everyone's out there hustling. Everybody's working it into their daily routine on top of being moms.

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