published Saturday, March 9th, 2013

Popup stores staying: 4 of 5 startups in program sign long-term leases

River City Co. retail recruiter Blair Waddell stands on the Citipark block on Chestnut Street, the site of the company's "popup" retailing initiative.
River City Co. retail recruiter Blair Waddell stands on the Citipark block on Chestnut Street, the site of the company's "popup" retailing initiative.
Photo by Staff File Photo.
  • photo
    Carrie Pendergrass, right, cuts fabric for Matt Irvin at Sewn to the Sky on Chestnut Street.
    Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

  • photo
    Siblings Tom and Jennifer Bleasdale work Go Bagel's register at 819 Chestnut Street.
    Photo by Jake Daniels /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

PROJECT: POPUP BUSINESSES

Go Bagel, a fast casual breakfast and lunch spot

Iron Labs,* a company that promotes video game competitions

Sewn to the Sky, a locally handmade gift shop

O.C. Buckels & Co., a department store focused on crafting

Tasty Daylight Donuts, a fresh-baked donut company

*Iron Labs is the only company not staying in the plaza

After opening her storefront at the corner of M.L. King Boulevard and Chestnut Street through an incentive program offered by the River City Co. in September, owner Lynda Buckels took four days off in December to figure out if she wanted to stay for the long haul.

Did she really want to do this? Was she really ready? Was it really working?

"And I came out of those four days and said, 'Oh yeah,'" Buckels said Friday.

She's not the only one -- four of the five small businesses that opened in Citipark as part of the River City Co.'s Project: Popup have signed long-term leases and will stay open in downtown, retail recruiter Blair Waddell said.

The program was launched last year and gave five small-business owners free rent for six months, as well as marketing services, facade grants and business development training.

"We knew that retail in downtown works," Waddell said. "We just had to get people to give it a shot."

Buckels saved $9,600 in rent through the program and signed a yearlong lease with property owner Steve Hunt after her free six months ended. In all, Berry & Hunt gave away $95,000 in rent. But the investment was worthwhile, Hunt said, because he wanted to refill the plaza after it emptied during the recession.

"It wasn't languishing, but all the sudden that whole south end was vacant," he said. "My worry was that it would get a stigma stuck to it when a few years earlier it had been thriving. So I wanted to head off getting a stigma attached to it."

The one program participant that is not staying in Citipark will stay open but is moving to a different location, Waddell said. Another established retailer, Elea Blake Cosmetics, opted to move from the North Shore to the plaza because of Project: Popup, she added.

The five new businesses created about 30 jobs and internships downtown.

Buckels said having the six months of free rent and support from Project: Popup were critical to keeping her shop, O.C. Buckels & Co., open.

"The six months gave me time to shape the idea and flush it out," she said. "I would not have survived the first six months without this."

She's still recouping her start-up costs -- and will be for a while -- but said opening with four other businesses was a huge boost.

"I didn't have to be the only reason people came out," she said. "I could not imagine doing it alone."

While Project: Popup is officially finished, the River City Co. is considering options for another round of grants. Hunt said he's happy with the way the program turned out.

"It's just an overwhelmingly successful venture," he said. "We'd do it again."

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...

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