MEMShop seeks new Soulsville businesses

The MEMShop program prepares to enter its fifth round of activating vacant storefronts in the city core of Memphis this month by inviting all entrepreneurs, creative thinkers and business owners to apply for the fall 2014 program. Having activated nine businesses in areas like Crosstown, Broad Avenue and South Memphis, the MEMShop program (a partnership between alt.Consulting, the Mayor's Innovation and Delivery Team and the City of Memphis) has its sights set on the Soulsville neighborhood as its next location.

The decision to take up residence in Soulsville was derived from an in-depth study and careful analysis of factors including current retail options, economic data and resident demographics. The MEMShop team discovered that 90 percent of all earned income was leaving the Soulsville neighborhood for essential goods and services that residents bought on a daily basis. After discovering these realities about economic status and retail options, the decision to plant the next round of businesses in the Soulsville neighborhood became an easy one for the MEMShop team.

Since the launch of the first MEMShop on Broad Avenue in April of 2013, Josh Colfer of alt.Consulting says nine businesses have been placed, trained and assisted by the MEMShop partnership in their efforts to fill vacant storefronts and turn empty streets into destinations for shoppers. "Of the nine businesses that have been brought through the MEMShop program, eight are currently open and operating, with positive revenue levels and a wide range of popularity in the Memphis community being reported," he says.

Since the MEMShop program seeks to support business endeavors that will help accomplish a wider mission of economic vitality and renewal in under-served neighborhoods, a group of community members and economic leaders in both the public and private industries convene to evaluate factors like business plans, revenue projections, list of goods or services, viability of product and how applicants' businesses align with the needs of the community.

After the selection committee has approved three to four individuals from the original pool of applicants, alt.Consulting will begin the process of bringing targeted storefronts up to code, communicating with property owners and coordinating with selected applicants on issues like code enforcements, structural needs and facade improvements.

"During the next six months, applicants will receive affordable, short-term leases with landlords, small allowances for improvements, which businesses will then match, and offset costs of rent for the first few months," Colfer adds. In addition, selected applicants also work closely with alt.Consulting to receive technical assistance on business-related tasks--from QuickBooks and balance sheets to cash flow and promotional and marketing services.

For the Soulsville location, the MEMShop committee is looking for entrepreneurs, current business owners or creative makers who have an enthusiasm for economic vitality and community involvement. Since businesses can live or die by their communities, the MEMShop program mandates that in exchange for all the guidance and assistance during a six-month window, shop owners hold two 'marketing' events per month, for the purpose of meeting individuals from the community and establishing ties to the people who will hopefully turn into customers.

The MEMShop application window is open now until June 30. Applications are accepted through alt.Consulting.

By Anna Mullins
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