Missouri Main Street Connection (MMSC) initiated the Activation of Storefront Grant program earlier this year to activate vacant storefronts in two Missouri Main Street communities. The grant assists these communities to enhance a vacant storefront in their district with temporary visual treatments to help local entrepreneurs see the possibilities of the space. These communities used market data to determine what new business is needed in the community. The installation will be in place for up to eighteen months and can include pop-up businesses, open houses, maker spaces, and other ideas from the community.
The first recipient was Downtown Marceline, which is the boyhood home of Walt Disney. They have a charming downtown that is quickly becoming a destination location. They used the grant money to set up an incubator space in the historic Zurcher building for entrepreneurs wanting to test out their business concepts. So, along with dressing up the windows to provide for more inviting curb appeal, they are using their market data to recruit entrepreneurs as identified through market data. The goal is to rent out the space to just one tenant, but the organization wants to cultivate the idea of budding entrepreneurs and help them find spaces in downtown. They have partnered with various organizations in the community, including the Future Businesses Leaders of America (FBLA) chapter at Marceline High School to make this a reality.
The other grant recipient was Main Street Willow Springs. They created a mock-up of a women’s clothing store in their identified building. According to their community input and market data, they are in need of a store for women to purchase clothing and accessories. Additionally, after this promotional project is complete, they will transition and mock-up an outdoors men’s store in the storefront windows. Many community members and visitors hunt and fish just outside Willow Springs and their downtown could use this type of retail store. They hope to continue this kind of project with other vacant properties in downtown.
Each group, despite the pandemic, has been full steam ahead on their projects. In Marceline, their future plan is to hold an open house to not only show the physical improvements to the building, but to show the potential of the space to entrepreneurs. At the conclusion of the project, they will work with the FBLA students to market the success of the project and bring this plan to building owners who are struggling to rent this space. This has also inspired Downtown Marceline to look at offering their own storefront activation grant. Willow Springs plans to continually update the window display to attract attention to the building and create buzz in the local media in a concerted effort to rent out the building to either a women’s clothing or men’s outdoor store. The local Main Street organization has had a hard time convincing community members that true, positive progress can happen in downtown. Upon completion of this project, the organization will use this success to shift that mindset. They will also use this plan and action steps to talk with building owners on how to actively recruit entrepreneurs.