Daryl Hennessy has been an active member of the Westgate and Hilltop communities for two decades, serving on area commissions, getting involved with various organizations and attending a growing lineup of community events. In 2015 he added another touchpoint to that list: landlord of five retail storefronts in two commercial buildings at the corner of Broad Street and Westmoor Avenue.
Leveraging his share of the proceeds from the sale of a family business, Hennessy decided to trade serving on boards for a more hands-on approach, investing directly in the community.
“One of the things that I’ve been working on from almost the very outset was trying to improve the economic development activity on West Broad Street,” he says.
A main artery running through the neighborhood and the city, the street generally lacks a strong concentration of commercial activity and hosts a large stock of vacant buildings.
“I felt like I had seen other communities in other parts of Columbus where some pioneers had gone in and purchased these buildings,” Hennessy says.
He was inspired by those pioneers fostering revitalization through strategies like offering apartments topping retail storefronts for market rate to subsidize below-market rates to bring in retailers. Hennessy looked at various options throughout the neighborhood, but when the buildings at 3058-3060 W. Broad St. and 11-15 N. Westmoor Ave. came up for auction, he became Westgate’s pioneer launching Westgate BusinessWorks.
Hennessy’s partner in life has also become his partner in business. Long-time residents brought together through a neighborhood organization, Barbara Miller brings a creative side to Hennessy’s finance and real estate savvy, acting as the managing director, business recruitment and design services for the BusinessWorks.
Invested in the general idea, the duo spent several months discussing concepts and how they wanted to frame the purpose of the spaces to the community.
“We wanted to give existing and new local small businesses either the chance to expand or start their business,” Miller says.
“We didn’t want the rent to be a reason why the businesses failed,”Hennessy adds.
The goal: keep overhead costs as low as possible. While he recognizes their model isn’t economically feasible everywhere, the BusinessWorks offers up its commercial spaces for below market rate. That includes waiving rent while tenants built out their setups after some initial cleanup from the owners.
Hennessy roughly refers to the BusinessWorks as an incubator. They don’t really have any business services around the retail storefronts, but will do what it takes to help a budding business owner “get out of their basement.”
From home basement to a storefront on Westmoor Avenue is the exact trajectory of one of the BusinessWorks’ tenants, Clay Street Ceramics. Its neighbors, Gypsy Soul Antiques & Vintage Decor and ME and the MOON, fill the retail spaces on the street and are the exact sort of tenant mix Hennessy envisioned.
First, they are all primarily retail-based businesses.
“We’re trying to generate activity on the street,” Hennessy says. “We’re trying to get people to come to a location.”
He also wanted to curate a collection of unique products and services, leveraging the idea that unique finds you can’t get anywhere else will further drive shopper traffic.
Additionally, the tenants check the box of primarily (but not exclusively) supporting artists, crafters and business owners within the greater Hilltop area.
Hennessy and Miller found their first tenant, Gypsy Soul, at the annual Hilltop Bean Dinner. Seeing her booth with hand-made and repurposed antique finds, along with goods micro-targeted to the Westside population, Miller thought, “This is really the kind of thing we think could be great over here.”
She and Hennessy took owner Heather Neumann by surprise when they pitched her the idea of a storefront at the BusinessWorks, but found a brick-and-mortar was in the long-term plans for her business. BusinessWorks could just accelerate the path.
When Neumann opened her storefront in September of 2016, she was the lone presence on Westmoor. As the holiday season rolled around, Miller and Hennessy saw empty storefronts as an opportunity to stimulate more activity and interest by launching a pop-up shop.
The success of the market in its first year not only meant a return for the 2017 holiday season, but the BusinessWorks gained its next tenant. Based on its success during the pop-up, Clay Street Ceramics made it permanent with a studio for paint-your-own pottery and a small gift shop.
The building buzz caught the attention of Broad Street resident, Keren Gosselin. With a background in fashion merchandising, Gosselin leveraged her skills to open a baby and children’s consignment clothing store with specialty gifts and handmade items. ME and the MOON fulfilled a dream for Gosselin and the third storefront on Westmoor.
Tenants for the two storefronts on Broad Street aren’t far behind.
Running weekends through December 24, the Westgate Marketplace Pop-Up Store brings shoppers to 3060 W. Broad St. Miller sees three big advantages to the holiday pop-up. For the creatives of Westgate, “It gives them a chance to sell their product in our neighborhood,” Miller says.
It can also help vendors determine if there is a market for their product, and perhaps pick up some business and marketing skills along the way. And, with the incredible response from the neighborhood to last year’s market, it also means more traffic for the BusinessWorks’ permanent tenants.
When the holiday season wraps up, Miller says a group of artists have their eyes on the storefront for a gallery-slash-event space. She says it’s not just about finding a tenant to fill the space, but finding business partners that want to be a part of the community, host events and cross-promote the other tenants.
Hennessy and Miller have a vision for the final storefront at 3058 W. Broad St.
“Our goal is to turn that corner space into a coffee shop,” Hennessy says. “Which will really then be a nice anchor for the two buildings.”
Miller feels it’s something the community has been wanting, and they want to make it happen for the neighborhood. They are working through the legal process and physical changes to the space to take it from its previous life as a vape shop, to a needed amenity for the area.
The BusinessWorks adds to a momentum that Miller sees building in Westgate. The neighborhood launched its farmers market two successful summers ago and long-standing events like Summer Jam are growing. What was once a “hidden secret” of a neighborhood is seeing more new residents that value the historic nature of its housing stock and diversity of the area.
Miller believes it’s bringing in a community of people ready to make things happen themselves – especially in an area of town that might not see all the support it wants from the city. Miller says that makes the sense of accomplishment all the greater.
Hennessy beams that the response from the neighborhood to Westgate BusinessWorks has been phenomenal. Residents are supporting the businesses that are there; they are supporting the pop-up.
“They are hungry for more commercial activity on Broad Street as well,” he says.
For more information and hours for the holiday pop-up, visit westgatebusinessworks.com.
All photos by Susan Post.