Heritage Trail next stop for MEMShop retail pop-up program

The Memphis Heritage Trail project is boosting economies while shining a light on local African-American history, and the Redevelopment Area will now be the grounds for the next incarnation of MEMShop. The six-month, retail pop-up program is designed to stimulate economic development and tourism in the vital historical district.

MEMShop is looking for a few good entrepreneurs.

The program has opened applications for its fourth pop-up retail project, this time along the Heritage Trail in Downtown Memphis.

The Memphis Heritage Trail is primed for major redevelopment in the coming years. The 20-block district is bordered by Beale Street on the north, Main Street on the west, Crump Boulevard on the south and Manassas Street on the east.

It has deep roots in African-American history and culture and has largely missed out on Memphis’ Downtown renaissance of the last two decades. With a focus on economic development and tourism, the Heritage Trail redevelopment aims to guide visitors through major Memphis historical landmarks while highlighting the city’s African American heritage.

The National Endowment for the Arts awarded a $150,000 grant to the ongoing city of Memphis project in July 2014. The money is earmarked for master planning, design and public art along the Heritage Trail, an area that includes Beale Street, the National Civil Rights Museum and FedExForum. Lesser known but culturally significant spaces in the district include the Mt. Olive Cathedral Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and the Tri-State Bank of Memphis.

The trail is incorporating MEMShop into its efforts before it begins official development, and MEMShop will help lay the groundwork for the rest of the trail.

MEMShop will choose three retail concepts from its pool of applicants. It will place the shops in vacant storefronts along the trail and guide them through the process of launching and sustaining a retail business.

The program, funded through the NEA grant, will give business owners, creative makers or whoever is interested the opportunity to ease into commerce without the pressure that comes from signing a long-term lease, said Joshua Colfer, marketing specialist with Communities Unlimited.

“Essentially, the MEMShop program covers the financial risk,” Colfer said.

The nonprofit Communities Unlimited directs MEMShop and is still evaluating project sites. Colfer said the group is looking for three vacant storefronts in close proximity to each other that are viable to foot traffic and near existing businesses.

Parking and safety also are key qualifications for the right spots.

Does it work?
Interested entrepreneurs should know that MEMShop has a solid track record. Seven of the nine businesses launched through the first three incarnations of the program – at Soulsville, Broad Avenue and Crosstown – are still in their spaces.
MEMShop is the big brother to MEMFix, which creates one-day or weekend pop-up shops designed to demonstrate the viability of local retail. The biggest difference in the programs is longevity. MEMShop is a six-month program and provides financial assistance, managerial consulting, marketing services and access to local agency resources: virtually everything a feasible business concept needs to succeed.

“The six-month piece is really critical because businesses get a chance to test, popping up with the hope of staying long term,” he said.

Colfer said a major point of emphasis is encouraging the entrepreneurs to think beyond the six-month time frame. He attributes that emphasis, at least in part, to the success of the MEMShop graduates.

“We help them imagine their business being viable beyond just this pop-up period,” he said. “They’ve done incredibly well and have gotten very creative with how they market themselves, and I think they have a lot of passion for running their business.”

There’s a lot of variety in the group of MEMShop graduates. In Soulsville, @ Home Computer Services provides affordable, reliable technology and support. In Crosstown, Co-Motion Studio offers recreational movement and fitness classes, workshops, special events and programming.

On Broad Avenue, Five in One Social Club combines a creative teaching facility with a studio practice and “Made in Memphis” retail store, which offers exclusive, artist made goods. Also on Broad, Creation Studios specializes in professional wedding, family and commercial photography and videography.

The application deadline for the Heritage Trail Incubation Program is Jan. 31. Colfer said a decision on the businesses would come in March. More information is available on MEMShop’s website, www.memshop.org.
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Read more articles by Jane A. Donahoe.