New Businesses Occupy Vacant Storefronts via Activated Spaces
By Shanon Potts
The NCAA First Four festivities may have left town for the year, but there’s a full-court press in downtown Dayton. It’s called the Greater Downtown Dayton Plan. The big news: the plan’s implementation team needs a deeper bench, so get up and go out for the team. You make the cut by allowing your actions to speak louder than your words.
When it comes to showing up for this game and taking action, our city’s best and brightest are being the change that they wish to see in Dayton. That change is a stronger and more vibrant urban core. They are taking the matter of downtown’s vacant storefronts into their own hands. Young professionals and young creatives came together to form Activated Spaces in December of 2010.
Activated Spaces is a volunteer-led economic development project with the goal of rejuvenating downtown Dayton by bringing vacant storefronts to life with art and businesses. The businesses are retail or service oriented, and volunteers come from groups like Generation Dayton, updayton and other forward-thinking organizations. In addition to activatedspaces.org, volunteers use facebook as a primary means of keeping in touch with fans of the project and to build synergy for its start-up businesses. Because of Activated Spaces, commercial storefronts that have been vacant for months, and in some cases even years, are now occupied with new small businesses.
Generation Dayton, a networking organization for young professionals, found that its members consistently ranked downtown development as their top issue of interest when updating their profiles. Updayton, an initiative to attract and retain young talent, surveyed hundreds of Dayton area college and university graduates. While survey results showed that a vibrant downtown is at least very important to 64 percent of those surveyed, only ten percent of survey-takers scored downtown Dayton as good to excellent.
Leaders behind Activated Spaces are not disappointed by these survey results. “We see the challenges facing our downtown as opportunities for us to roll up our sleeves and make a difference in our city,” says Scott Murphy, co-founder of updayton. Out of the opportunity presented by The Plan and survey findings, two Activated Spaces teams have emerged.
The first Activated Spaces team, the Street Team, works with property owners and artists to fill empty storefront windows with works of art. Approaching its third installation with the May 11, 2012 Urban Nights, you can view the art and vote for your favorite for a People’s Choice Award at www.activatedspaces.org. The winning Street Level Artist will receive wall space to display work in a local business.
The Street Team paved the way for Activated Spaces’ next team, the Pop-up Team. This team pairs property owners of vacant space with small business owners aspiring to test their concept in the downtown market on a short-term basis.
The Pop-Up Team tipped off its pilot project in November of 2011 with the opening of three shops just in time for the holiday shopping season. Holiday pop-up shops included Comfort & Joy at 521-523 E. Fifth St., which offers homemade desserts, handmade scarves and other gifts, Peace on Fifth at 519 E. Fifth St., which offers a fair trade and slave free shopping experience and Beaute Box, 116 W. Fifth St., a day spa and mobile pampering service. While Comfort & Joy wrapped up operations at the end of December, 2011, both Beaute Box and Peace on Fifth remain open for businesses under new, longer-term leases. Basho Screen Printing and Apparel now occupies the space Comfort & Joy vacated at 521-523 E. Fifth St., having become interested in the location due to the buzz surrounding the Activated Spaces Pop-up Project.
With a strong record of victories, expectations are high, as three new pop-up shops launch this month. Beaute Box gets a new next-door neighbor, Vintage Barbershop at 110 W. Fifth St. The old school, classic barbershop offers haircuts, hot steam towel shaves and more. Both American ∏ (pi) and ARIN are opening in the St. Clair Lofts. American ∏, at 37 S. St. Clair St., carries gifts and accessories made in the United States such as handbags, greeting cards, candles and food items. ARIN, at 27 S. St. Clair St., offers jewelry by shop owner and designer Brooke Medlin, in addition to other beautifully designed goods for the self and home.
Medlin grew up in the Dayton area, but eventually moved away for a variety of reasons. She came back to find, in her own words, “a much different place than the place she wanted to leave a few years ago.” Medlin is excited to see creative people reclaiming downtown space. “All the fun stuff I want to do, I can do here. I don’t have to go somewhere else,” she adds. In addition to selling jewelry and showcasing the creation process on-site, Medlin wants to use the opportunity of having downtown retail space to showcase the work of others who create for a living, and will begin by collaborating with stained glass artist Darren Link of Broken Leaded Glass.
In short, these are exciting times for downtown Dayton. The game is on, and it’s time for you to join the team … or create your own. Put your feet to the streets. View Activated Spaces art installations or cast your vote for the People’s Choice award at www.activatedspaces.org. We have so much to gain by getting behind the Greater Downtown Dayton Plan, and the projects like Activated Spaces that support it, including a stronger and more vibrant center city thriving with more young professionals and young creatives.
(The public is invited to a kickoff event for the Pop-up Shops on Friday, May 18th, from 6:30 to 8:30p.m. It begins at Beaute Box, 116 W. Fifth St., and ends at Peace on Fifth, 519 E. Fifth St., with stops at all Pop-up Shops in between. Raffle tickets will be sold during the event for $5, with all proceeds benefiting Activated Spaces, and prizes will be drawn at each stop. Additional details are available at www.activatedspaces.org and on facebook.)
Reach DCP freelance writer Shanon Potts at ShanonPotts@daytoncitypaper.com
[Photos: Carly Short Photography]