The best place to start is with your own city, which can tell you what kind of business licenses and permits you need for your particular type of business. Contact your city's business license department to find out how to get a business license, which, for a fee, grants you the right to operate in that city. When you file your application for a license, the city's planning or zoning department will check to make sure your area is zoned for your type of business and that there are enough parking spaces to meet the codes. If you are opening your business in a building that previously housed an electronics store, you are not likely to encounter too many problems.
You cannot operate your business in an area that is not properly zoned for your type of business unless you first obtain a variance, or conditional-use permit. To get a variance, you will need to present your case before the planning commission in your city. In many cases, variances are quite easy to get, as long as you can show that your business will not disrupt the character of the neighborhood where you plan to locate.
Your city should also be able to help you determine what type of county and/or state licenses and permits you need, if any. And check with your local chamber of commerce--they often have helpful checklists and resources for new business owners that can help you navigate the maze of paperwork involved with starting a business. Finally, it's a good idea to visit your local Small Business Development Center for additional help and resources.
Keep in mind, too, licenses and permits are just one facet of starting a business. For more help, pick up a copy of Start Your Own Business: The Only Start-Up Book You'll Ever Need by Rieva Lesonsky and the staff of Entrepreneur.
Karen E. Spaeder is a freelance business writer in Southern California.