When attorney Alfred Fraijo Jr. started volunteering in Boyle Heights, the neighborhood in which he grew up, it gave him a business idea.

“What kept emerging from conversations and projects I was taking on was the need for affordable office and commercial space for organizations in the area,” said Fraijo, 39, a partner in Sheppard Mullin’s downtown L.A. office who specializes in land use and real estate.

Deciding to invest there, Fraijo said he used his savings and a low-interest loan from downtown community development financial institution Genesis LA to buy a plot of land with four buildings totaling 6,400 square feet. He converted two of the structures into City Labs, a co-working space that last summer started leasing to a mix of local nonprofit and for-profit businesses.

The space now has four tenants, including community development and advocacy group Lurn and marketing firm Team Friday. City Labs also hosts events for the East L.A. neighborhood in its lobby; a couple of which were even sponsored by his firm.

Fraijo is working on plans to upgrade a house on the property and convert the liquor store in the fourth building to a full market selling fresh produce.

What’s more, he said City Labs is profitable.

“The margins are super tiny because we’re intending to serve the neighborhood,” Fraijo explained. “We’re reinvesting the revenue we’re generating back into the project.”

– Marni Usheroff

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