When you bring together the idea of pop up (temporary) businesses with the tiny house movement, you get tiny business villages. They make great sense for small towns and rural places.
Garden Sheds Turned Incubator: Tionesta Market Village
Tionesta, Pennsylvania, (population 500) had a lot that was vacant for 10 years after a fire in the downtown, reader Julia McCray told me when she was with Forest County IDA/IDC. The Industrial Development Corporation bought the lot and created a micro-retail incubator. Julia said it’s really a pop-up facilitator.
They started with standard outdoor sheds, then designed 1800s style false fronts for them. The buildings have no heat, so they are seasonal. The investment came to about $40,000 with site work, furnishings and buildings.
They are leased annually, so people can try their business idea with minimal investment (about $500 start-up) and no long-term commitment. Rent is just $50 – $70 per month plus electric, and the tenants share the cost of collective advertising. They have had a waiting list for these buildings from the very beginning of the project!
“The goal was to create healthy traffic in the downtown that would help boost sales at our existing businesses, spur new businesses, encourage façade improvements, and attract a developer to the site,” Julia said. “It’s working! Our coffee shop and art gallery extended their hours and saw a boost in sales. A vacant building was purchased and is being renovated for mixed-use. We have a lot more traffic in our downtown, and that depressing vacant lot is now vibrant and attractive. The original intention of the project was that it be a temporary solution, but the community loves it! Artisans are selling their products; tourists are coming to see ‘the Village’; residents and seasonal residents are coming back to the downtown; a couple of the shops have hired part-time help. This project shows that “pop-ups” work and are good tor a community!”
Read more about it at Tionesta Market Village.
Cottages Anchor a New Shopping District: Anchor Square
Pascagoula, Mississippi, (population 22,000) created a tiny business village out of donated cottages. Tripp Muldrow told about it at the Oklahoma Small Town Conference.
There are 17 cottages under 1000 square feet each. These are former Katrina Cottages, temporary housing provided after Hurricane Katrina, donated by the state emergency management department. All the cottages are connected by a deck that gives more outdoor selling space. The cottages are arranged around an open green space that’s now a popular public gathering spot.
What used to be described as “a big dirty lot” is now a thriving business center. Read more about it here at Gulf Live.
I see a lot of potential benefits to tiny business villages.
- It pulls down barriers to entry so people can try a business idea for significantly less money. That means a failure can be a learning experience, not a financial catastrophe.
- It also means more people can participate. If it takes a few thousand dollars instead of tens of thousands to get started, more people can try.
- Businesses that could never afford their own storefront can afford a tiny business. Your artisans, crafters, food producers, and other tiny enterprises benefit from the added sales and exposure that couldn’t otherwise afford to access.
- This smaller business can be a stepping stone to a larger business because of what business owners learn and what they earn.
- It converts a nonproductive empty lot into a lively business place.
- It draws traffic to the area.
- Surrounding businesses benefit from that extra traffic.
- The outdoor public space can be a gathering spot, a recreation area, or any other public use of it. Give people a reason to stay and hang out. Tionesta Market Village even offers free wifi to encourage lingering.
- Participating tiny businesses can cooperate on shared advertising and promotion.
- They’ll all automatically benefit from shared exposure. Because you get a variety of different little businesses, they each draw different customers. It’s easy for those customers to discover the other tiny businesses, because they’re all together in the little village.
Do you know of other little business villages that have sprung up from empty lots in small towns? I’d love to hear about them. Leave a comment or hit reply and tell me about it.
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.