October 9, 2012

City's offer includes two months rent free

By Paul Koenig
Staff Writer

GARDINER -- A downtown revitalization program has an offer that will be tough to refuse for businesses looking to open a storefront in the historic downtown district: free rent during the holiday shopping season.

click image to enlarge

Children walk by 318 Water Street in Gardiner on Wednesday that is available for free for a business to occupy during the months of November and December.


Clare Marron and her partner, Peter Malyon, opened their Water Street shop, Monkitree, in May 2010.

The store, with display cases and tables stocked with jewelry, pottery and textiles from local artisans, also serves as a gallery with rotating art shows on its white walls.

Marron said the store makes about half of its annual sales during the months of November and December.

"Having people in the downtown for what is my busiest time of the year -- that would be fantastic," she said.

Other business owners she's talked to seem to be excited about Project Pop-Up too, she said.

"It just means more foot traffic downtown and that benefits all of us," she said.

Alan Aronson, property manager for two of the available units, said it's a good way to promote the downtown and agreed it will boost foot traffic for all the business owners.

"I think nowadays a lot of people work individually. I think if we work as a whole, we're better off," he said

Aronson, who manages 305 and 307 Water St. for his in-laws, said the ultimate goal for participating is to land a long-term tenant.

"Hopefully while they're here, if they do well enough, they would stay," he said. "Giving them two months free rent is pretty significant in giving them a headstart."

Michael Blodgett, 25, works at Water Street Cafe and said he hopes the project can breathe more life into the downtown that has seen a several store closures in the last year. Being next door to an available space, the cafe is one of the businesses that would likely benefit from more foot traffic.

"It would help attract attention and bring people in," he said. "Gardiner needs it."

Gardiner Main Street is organizing Project Pop-Up in the hopes of filling vacant spaces during November and December and increasing foot traffic for all downtown businesses.

Patrick Wright, executive director of Gardiner Main Street, said the ultimate goal is to attract long-term tenants for Gardiner's vacant storefronts, but he also hopes the project will "add a sense of vibrancy and excitement for the downtown district."

"It's an experiment. It's something we're trying out to move the needle on some of these spaces and business development in Gardiner," he said.

There are nine vacant, storefront spaces available for lease in downtown Gardiner, according to Wright.

Four landlords with six vacant units have agreed to lease their properties to tenants for only the cost of utilities for November and December.

The Gardiner City Council voted last month to waive any applicable fees for businesses accepted in the program through Jan. 1. Nate Rudy, director of economic and community development for the city of Gardiner, said lowering the barriers to entry is important to attract businesses and worth the investment.

"The revenue loss to the city is worth it to get people talking about Gardiner again," he said.

Rudy said the project will give visitors during the holiday months a chance to see what Gardiner can look at its best.

"Having a cluster of shops to go to is more of a draw than just having a few places to go," he said. "They can make out of it this way."

Gardiner Main Street received one application from an art and craft store as of Friday, and Wright said he's heard interest from a few other businesses.

Application from businesses are due by the end of the day next Monday, and tenants will be notified by Friday, Oct. 19. They'll be able to open as early as Nov. 3 and as late as Nov. 23.

Pop-up stores aren't a new idea. Seasonal retailers -- like shops peddling ornaments and wreaths in December and Halloween-themed stores with costumed employees waving plastic signs at cars -- have been taking advantage of holiday spending for decades.

These stores often tend toward the big box end of the retail spectrum or set up camp in the corners and kiosks of malls.

In large cities like New York City, stores will pop up for only a several days or weeks, often with products marketing heavily with their exclusivity. Other brands, like Procter & Gamble, have used them marketing, like when P&G opened a pop-up store in Manhattan in the fall of 2010 offering free products and free services like makeovers and hair washes.

Wright first heard about the pop-up store idea in April at this year's National Main Street Conference in Baltimore. He said he was then reminded of the idea in early September when he saw Delaware was doing a Project Pop-Up of their own.

Main Street is a national program of more than 2,000 accredited communities that tries to revitalize older business districts in small cities and towns in the context of historic preservation. Gardiner is one of 10 Maine cities and towns that are accredited Main Street communities.

Wright called up Diane Laird, state coordinator of Downtown Delaware, and asked her if he was crazy to try to try to pull this off with such a short window, he said. She told him the aggressive time frame seemed feasible, Laird said.

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