Tom Galligani
Director of Economic Development

Hours

Monday - Wednesday
8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Thursday
8:30 a.m. - 7:30 p.m.

Friday
8:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

Phone

(617) 625-6600  ext 2531

Email

tgalligani@somervillema.gov

Address

City Hall
93 Highland Ave.
Somerville, MA 02143

View All Staff Contacts

Business Technical Assistance

 

How to Start a Business in Somerville

We know it can be stressful and confusing to start a business. We're here to help! Check out some helpful resources, programs, and links below, including a step-by-step online guide to help get you started.

  • Step by Step

  • Key Licenses & Permits

  • Somerville SiteFinder

#1
  Plan a Budget & Business Plan


Process

Creating a business plan, including start up costs, a budget, marketing strategy, and timeline, will guide you to opening a successful business. The City of Somerville's Economic Development Office can provide business plan, examples, assistance, and referrals.

Timeline

The City of Somerville advises at least 6 months to conduct market research and thinking through your business plan.

Cost

There is a significant time investment to develop a business plan, but there does not need to be a financial cost to develop one.

 

#2
  Get in the Zone


Process

Certain commercial activities require Special Permits from the Zoning Board of Appeals or the Planning Board.

License/Permit

It is recommended that you set up a preliminary review meeting with the zoning review planner before you submit your application Special Permit application form and supplemental questions, site plans, elevations, conceptual floor plans, traffic/parking analysis.

Timeline

A hearing is scheduled within 65 days of application, and decisions are made within 90 days.

Cost

$125 minimum base fee to maximum $14,000 depending on type of permit and size of project

 

#3
  Find a Place to Set Up Shop


Process

Opening your business in the right location is critical. Many businesses require adequate foot traffic to sustain, occupancy costs can vary, and the local demographics need to match your target customers.

Timeline

The City of Somerville recommends at least 3 months to find the right location.

Cost

Rent costs vary by neighborhood, business type (i.e. retail vs. office vs. industrial), and market conditions. Use the Somerville SiteFinder to help you in your search for a location that fits your budget and needs.

 

#4
  Get Funded


Process

Many entrepreneurs finance their businesses through traditional bank loans. However, first-time business owners may have trouble getting a loan from a bank. There are various ways to finance your business, including: bank loans, microloans or crowd funding.

Timeline

The City of Somerville advises at least 2 months in developing a financing strategy.

Cost

Depending on the type of loan, market conditions, and entrepreneur profile, interest rates can vary widely. More creative financing methods that do not require a bank loan can be done for very low-cost.

 

#5
  Acquire Additional Licenses (if Needed)


Process

The Board of Alderman approves licenses for over 50 types of businesses including but not limited to; garages, gas stations, hotels, and more.

Timeline

Depending on the type of license, the process may take 2-4 months.

License/Permit

There are various licenses. Contact the City Clerk's Office for more information. Common Licenses include Common Victualers license for food businesses. Any car-related business must go through the City Clerk's office.

 

#6
  Make Physical Improvements


Process

Have your licensed professional submit plans and required documents to ISD building. The City of Somerville also offers some matching storefront incentive grants.

Timeline

Some physical improvements can take 3-6 months.

License/Permit

Building Permit: Scaled drawings showing the extent of work to be performed. Detailed information and qualifications of the owner, applicant, contractor, architect, information about existing and proposed use.

Cost

Building Permit: $20 per $1,000 of the estimated cost of the work. Plan Review Fee, Building Code: $4 per $1,000 of work. Zoning $1 per $1,000 of work. Other permits vary according to type of work.

 

#7
  Get Health Permissions


Process

You will be required to get licenses through the ISD Health if you are selling or giving food to the public.

Timeline

Food Plan Review: 2-6 weeks

License/Permit

Food Plan Review: Proposed menu, floor plans, food equipment schedule, equipment manufacturers specifications

Cost

New Business Application Fee: $100
Retail Establishment fees go by square footage from $240 for 1,000 sq. ft. to $600 for 7,500 sq. ft.

 

#8
  Grow and Change Your Business


Process

After opening your business, there may be some additional changes you would like to make. Many of these require a specific permit, including: serving alcohol, extended operating hours, outdoor seating, etc. The City Clerk's Office can help you apply for these changes to your business.

Timeline

Licensing process may take up to 2-4 months

Cost

Permit costs vary. For example: alcohol: $1,500-$5,000, extended operating hours: $800, outdoor seating $150

 

Please note: while the words 'license' and 'permit' are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between the two. In the City of Somerville, permits are often required before an activity can begin (a building permit, for instance), whereas licenses allow the holder to perform a specific regulated task (such as serving alcohol). Permits include Building Permits, Plumbing Permits, Electrical Permits, Certificates of Inspection, Certificates of Occupancy, and Construction Dumpster Permits. Licenses include Public Event Licenses, Temporary Food Permits, Dumpster Licenses, and Food Establishment Licenses.

 

To apply or renew business licenses and permits, visit the City's CitizenServe web portal. CitizenServe makes it easy to determine what permits and/or licenses your business needs and helps you apply for/renew them.


Building Permit

Anyone seeking to to construct, reconstruct, alter, repair, or demolish a structure or install a sign must first obtain a building permit. Before any work starts, a building permit must be obtained and prominently displayed at the job site. For more information about building permits or to apply for a permit or license, visit the City's CitizenServe web portal.

Health License

The Health Division works closely with the Health Department and the Board of Health and is responsible for the issuance and renewal of health-related licenses as well as responding to tenant complaints regarding violations of health codes. A health license is required for any business related to body art, retail space, food establishments, permanent on-site dumpster use, removal and disposal of trash from dumpsters, and other health-related commercial licenses. To apply or renew a health license, visit the City's CitizenServe web portal.

Alcohol License

In order to distribute or sell alcoholic beverages in Somerville, you must first obtain a license. There are a variety of alcohol licenses. To determine which your business needs, view the Licensing Commission Rules and Regulations or view the application on the City's CitizenServe web portal.

Outdoor Seating License

If your business wishes to place any article or structure such as tables and chairs on or over a street or sidewalk, you must first obtain an Outdoor Seating Permit. To determine whether your business needs an Outdoor Seating Permit, see the attached application.

 

Somerville SiteFinder: Find a Place to Grow Your Business