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Downtown program gives retailers chance to test market, shoppers opportunity to discover unique gifts

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JESSICA KUHN, COURTESY CSBJ
  • Jessica Kuhn, courtesy CSBJ

A Colorado Springs native and her 15-year-old dog, Kaly, are among several new faces greeting shoppers downtown this holiday season.

Michele Osborn recently opened her pop-up shop, Art&Article, next to Iron Bird Brewing Company on East Costilla Street. The home goods and lifestyle store has been operating for six years online and features designer pieces from around the world, including Japan and Scandinavia, and throughout the U.S.

"Pop-up shops are a really great way to test if there is a market for your business to have an actual store," Osborn said. "There is not a store like ours downtown really, and I wasn't sure if it didn't exist because there is no market for it. But I really feel like downtown is going through an exciting shift right now where they are really trying to add more unique types of stores and kind of diversify things."

The downtown Holiday Pop-up Shop program can offer digital retailers like Osborn an opportunity to test selling products in a physical environment, says Sarah Humbargar, vice president of development services for Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs. Those interested in participating in the program, which launched in 2014, apply for a pop-up shop, then a committee determines which concepts will become operational businesses that holiday season.

"If they are selected, we work with them to find the right space and then meet directly with the landlord and them," Humbargar explains. "The landlord agrees to take 50 percent of their monthly rent from the applicant and then 50 percent is covered through the Downtown Development Authority as a grant."

The leases are for two months, November and December, but the goal of the program is to have participants extend their leases beyond that. "The program tends to work very well for a retailer that has a small vendor-type location already at somewhere like Pikes Peak Market," Humbargar says. "Then it also works really well for online-only retail businesses that are looking to see if it makes sense for them to also go into a store in addition to online."

Some success stories out of the program include the Rocky Mountain Soap Market, which just expanded into a new location downtown, as well as the newly opened artisan market, Colorado Handmade, on Tejon Street next to Rooster's House of Ramen.

"Colorado Handmade was our only pop-up shop for the last two years," Humbargar says. "We've been in a state of having very little retail space the last couple of years and part of what the program does is it helps fill vacancies and makes sure all of our spaces are really full and vibrant during the holiday season."

This year, Osborn and Peri Bolts, founder of Eclectic CO (see separate story on p. 20), had concepts that were selected to be part of the pop-up shop program. Eclectic CO is located on Tejon Street across from Acacia Park. The collective consists of 25-plus southern Colorado-based artisans. The boutique-style maker's market offers a range of handmade goods, including a variety of items crafted from materials otherwise bound for the landfill.

"This is intended to be a place that makers or artists can gravitate to that helps reduce barriers to market," Bolts says, adding a lot of the artisans also sell their products online via their own website or an Etsy-like platform. However, after meeting several of them at a pop-up market event in August, Bolts learned they wanted to have a more permanent physical retail presence but couldn't because of the overhead.

"Overwhelmingly, they were like, 'I would love to be in a brick-and-mortar store,' but nobody could afford to do that on their own, especially downtown," she says. "It really takes the collective movement to be able to operate in a physical store."

During the shop's first weekend, all but one artisan made a sale, with several already making enough to cover their part of the first month's rent.

Meanwhile, Osborn said her first weekend started off a "little slower" than she had hoped. "A lot of the people who have been coming in are coming in because friends told them to stop by or they heard about us through the Downtown Partnership," she says. "But outside of that, it's just been passersby and there is just not a lot of foot traffic on this block. That's a little bit of a downer, but I do think we are a destination store, so I think that it will work out once people learn about us."

Beyond testing the downtown market, Osborn opened the shop to help connect the Springs to designers from across the world, she says. "I wanted to bring something new to downtown."

Both of the pop-up owners expressed interest in seeing their concepts become permanent downtown fixtures.

"We intend to be a full-time space after December. It just remains to be seen if we can afford to stay here or if we have to relocate somewhere else downtown," Bolts says. "We really intend to power through though and really feel this space is perfect for us."

While Osborn also is hoping to remain downtown, she isn't ready to make that decision, she says. "... This is during the holidays, so it's not an accurate gauge of what business is like during the entire year. But if things go well, I would really love to stay."

And if that happens, Osborn said her next move would be hiring employees (see related story on p. 26). "Right now, it's just me and I am open seven days a week," she says. "I definitely will need some help if I stay past December."

Visit downtowncs.com/popup for more info about this year's Downtown Holiday Pop-up Shop program.

This article originally appeared in the Colorado Springs Business Journal.

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