This month downtown will get some poppin' fresh businesses thanks to Project Popup, a River City innovation. Located on Chestnut Street in the long abandoned strip known as CitiPark, the project gives new shops and restaurants rent-free space for six months, with hopes they'll stay much longer. The idea is to bring some much needed foot traffic to the City Center district, an area most known for office space. Here's a toast to downtown's hottest new retail corridor.
Owners: Darwyn Siplin and Aaron Welch
Why you must go: If you've ever rocked a living room with an Xbox or pulled an all-nighter after one of Halo's new releases, then Iron Labs is your new gaming headquarters - stacked wall-to-wall with gaming consoles, projectors, a professional-grade Rock Band stage, Wii bowling alley, 3-D Halo 3 arena and more.
The concept: The idea is to turn gaming into a social experience, much like a modern-day arcade. Instead of playing at home alone or with a few friends, Iron Labs allows face-to-face interaction with regular gaming events and tournaments held in its state-of-the-art facility. Casual gamers are also welcome for birthday parties, corporate events or even to pop by for a digital lunch break thanks to a Tron-inspired café.
Why Popup? Graduates of the GigTank, Siplin and Welch decided in order to get their idea of hosting computer game tournaments off the ground, they first had to launch Chattanooga's only LAN gaming center. Popup allowed them to focus start-up funds on what matters most - hardware.
Owner: Carrie Pendergrass
Why you must go: Part fabric/part gift store, Sewn to the Sky offers mod-inspired fabric, hand-crafted gifts, home accessories and body care products you can't find anywhere else.
Why Popup? Pendergrass admits the idea for her shop probably percolated in her subconscious for many years, but the decision to go for it came after a dream. Two days later, she found out about Popup - just a few days before the application deadline. Having just finished the school year, the classically trained painter/art teacher dove in head first, going from zero to storefront in mere months.
What's in a name? Sewn to the Sky is actually an album title for an Indie rock band, but it's also an almost eerily perfect moniker for this unorthodox shop. In addition to offering a modern selection of fabric not found anywhere else in town, this one-of-a-kind storefront features equally unique goods from local artists, including Pendergrass' paintings that incorporate hand stitching into the canvas.
Owner: Lynda Buckels
Why you must go: A reinvention of the mid-century downtown department store, O.C. Buckels brings the best of Pinterest and Etsy to life. Showcasing Indie designer wares from across the country, you can find everything from couture dresses to candles in the retail section. Crafty sorts can dive into the MakerSpace, which gives access to expensive equipment for a monthly fee - think letterpress, screen printer, votive making table, die cutter and button maker. Or, mosey to the post-consumer craft supply market with pay as you wish pricing. Finally, the store will serve as home base for Chatty Crafty, Chattanooga's first vintage and handmade market, founded by Buckels.
What's in a name? O.C. Buckels is Lynda's grandfather; a man whom she says could make anything and inspired a little girl to believe she could too.
Why Popup? Looking at spaces all over town, nothing felt quite right until hearing about Popup, a homecoming of sorts for this Chattanooga native. Growing up in Rossville, her grandmother lived downtown and her mother worked at Loveman's. "I think what's happened to downtown in my lifetime is one of the most amazing things ever. We've created places to work, to live, to eat and play. Now it's time to bring retail back."
Owners: Tony McInnis and Brent Johnson
Why you must go: The fact that Daylight donuts are hand-made each morning from tried and true recipes makes them delicious, but variety makes them irresistible. Control your own donut destiny with the new toppings bar, which allows you to customize any of Tasty Daylight's 50 donut flavors with your choice of icing, sprinkles, cream filling and other sweet toppings.
Why Popup? The first Chattanooga Daylight Donuts opened on Jenkins Road about two years ago - in the heat of the recession. This climate has made the owners very aware of how competitive the dessert dollar can be. Still, the company is in growth mode according to McInnis, and Popup provided a perfect entrée into coveted downtown real estate.
Why donuts? "A donut shop is one of the few businesses where every customer you encounter is really happy. When the opportunity came up to do something that was fun and rewarding, I jumped at the chance," he says.
Owners: Jennifer and Tom Bleasdale
Why you must go: As if made-from-scratch NY-style bagels weren't enough, Go Bagel will also lure a morning and mid-day crowd with bagel sandwiches, paninis, pastries, coffee, chai and even specialty items like gluten-free brownies. The overarching theme however is a focus on high-quality food, using as many local ingredients as possible and excellent customer service.
Why Popup? Jennifer has been a technical writer for many years and Tom comes from a sales background, but opening a restaurant has always been a dream for this brother/sister duo. Growing up in Massachusetts they learned farm-to-table basics early on, cooking nearly everything from scratch from the family's big garden. Finally feeling like they had the time to devote to a restaurant, Popup was the perfect catalyst to turn their idea from half-baked to well done.
What's in a name? Tom and Jennifer were brainstorming names when their 4-year-old nephew came up with Go Bagel. It was an instant hit, much like their freshly baked bagels are sure to be.