Pop-up Retail Incubator to Create Opportunities for Independent Retailers Downtown

If you have ever thought about opening a retail brick-and-mortar Downtown, a new pop-up retail incubation program is emerging to help you test the market in a low-risk way.

A collaborative effort between the Gay Street Collaborative, The Columbus Foundation and the Downtown Special Improvement District, the space dubbed POP Columbus will provide two storefronts available for short term lease at 44 N. High St.

The former convenience store is being split into two 1,600 square foot retail spaces – one with an entrance on High Street and another with an entrance on Pearl Alley.

The idea gives a more permanent home to the momentum that has been growing Downtown for more retail space, stemming from events like the Sunlight Market and Moonlight Market, which the Gay Street Collaborative organizes.

As we’ve continued to evolve, we’ve realized that there is an increased demand for more pop-up and full-time retail opportunities, but there is a gap with the available vacant retail spaces in the area,” says Walker Evans, president of the Gay Street Collaborative. 

Many vacant storefronts exist, but are often out of reach for small, local retailers. Many historic properties are in need of costly updates, and if a landlord takes on those charges, expects a long-term lease in return – both difficult things for a small business to commit to.

“This project is extremely important for downtown because it provides the opportunity for small-scale, independent retail to test consumer demand before making a long-term lease commitment,” says Cleve Ricksecker, executive director of Capital Crossroads SID. “It lowers a barrier to entry that is too high for most operators.” 

A $70,000 grant from The Columbus Foundation will return the building to its more original look – hardwood floors, exposed brick, high ceilings. Each storefront will be pretty bare bones with retailers expected to bring in displays, signage and any additional lighting necessary (and take it with them when they go).

Starting today, retailers can apply for a spin in the incubator. Rents includes expenses like utilities and will vary depending on the amount of time a retailer wants the space – more expensive for one day, and cheaper for a longer time commitment.

POP Columbus will base rental costs on fair market rate. Other retail incubation programs have offered deeply discounted rates that sometimes lead to sticker shock once the initial discount period is over. POP Columbus aims to set a more realistic expectation and help a business estimate what they might be able to afford.

POP Columbus’ retail takes on a broad definition, covering most hardlines and softlines – apparel, home goods, pre-packaged food items, etc. The program will not be accepting prepared to-go foods businesses, restaurants, booze or smoking related concepts, adult materials, pawn shops or non-retail event spaces, like coworking.

POP Columbus will look for retailers with strong business and marketing plans, and preferably a diverse revenue model. Evans cites a neighbor, zerOz as a good example. They have a brick-and-mortar storefront but also sell through online and wholesale outlets. But, renters can be new concepts to established businesses that want to explore the Downtown market.

Retailers will have the advantage of marketing and social media support from POP Columbus, as well as built-in foot traffic from events like the Sunlight Market, Moonlight Market and Pearl Market.

Short-term, retailers have the opportunity to expose their brand to a new audience.

The long-term goal is to find someone who wants to stay,” Evans says. 

“Our goal is to see as many of the POP Columbus tenants as possible sign longer leases elsewhere in Downtown, thus helping to revitalize the retail sector,” says Kacey Brankamp, director of strategic initiatives at Capital Crossroads SID. 

Ultimately the program could outdo itself.

The goal is that we have such a thriving retail economy Downtown that you don’t need to do programs like this,” Evans says. But until then, “We’re treating this as a pilot program, which is really more of a pop-up retail framework that can be applied to any space with any landlord and customized to fit.” 

POP Columbus is aiming for a spring 2017 launch to coincide with the start of market season.

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For more information, popcolumbus.com.