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Main Street Association pursues retail incubator

March 21, 2012

By STEVEN NALLEY
citybeat@bellsouth.net

The Starkville Main Street Association is working to develop a retail incubator in Starkville akin to Columbus’s Savvy Spaces within the next year.
Jennifer Gregory, SMSA manager, said a retail incubator is a single storefront where vendors lease space to individual retailers without using walls to divide the vendors. She said similar stores, also known as retail co-ops and communities, exist across Mississippi, and they are usually best suited to upscale businesses, especially boutiques.
“Basically, it would be ... one space with 10-15 different vendors within a 2,000-or-so-square-foot space,” Gregory said. “Each vendor (would have) anywhere from 10-by-10 to 15-by-15 (feet), An example of this is Savvy Spaces in Columbus, but that’s privately owned. Our idea is for SMSA, possibly in partnership with private investors, to open a store such as this essentially to create an atmosphere in which potential business owners could test a market for their products ... hopefully gain a consumer following and eventually open their own storefront.”
Gregory said Deep South Pout in Starkville is an example of a business which began life in Savvy Spaces and has since expanded to a successful storefront in Starkville. Megan Westby, owner of Savvy Spaces, said Deep South Pout is now leaving its Savvy Spaces location to start an extra storefront in Columbus, and she wishes them nothing but the best.
“(Deep South Pout’s space in Savvy Spaces) was the very first time they ever owned a business,” Westby said. “(Expanding to two storefronts) is a huge accomplishment. I think it’s wonderful. Being in business for myself as long as I have been, I think owning your own business is the American dream. It’s the best way to help a downtown community thrive and not succumb to the large corporations. That’s why I do what I do.”
Westby said she and her mother owned a children’s store for 11 years before she started Savvy Spaces specifically to help entrepreneurs launch their first businesses. Startup costs for entrepreneurs can be daunting, she said, because they include large inventories, employee payrolls, payroll taxes, fixtures and large amounts of rent. At Savvy Spaces, vendors only have to pay a small rental fee, a small commission on each sale and the cost of their inventory.
“I take care of everything else for them,” Westby said.
Gregory said providing entrepreneurs with affordable space and strong exposure is SMSA’s goal as well. She said vendors would not be limited to clothing, jewelry and other boutique staples.
“We’d like to incorporate an art element and be able to display and sell local art as well as furniture, potentially repurposed furniture, among other items,” Gregory said. “We like to create a place where visitors and locals can find merchandise that’s not accessible in other storefronts in the community.”
Currently SMSA is in the process of identifying potential locations and potential vendors, Gregory said, and it is also trying to choose one of several business models.
“We would like to keep this model somewhere in downtown; even if that location is a gateway to downtown, we (would) like to keep it as part of our established extended downtown district,” Gregory said. “There’s always the possibility of starting out very small and growing based on success into a larger property. I’d like to have at least 10 (vendors) as a startup, but the vendor space can be determined based on the square footage of a potential property. There would also be one point of sale for the entire store, so each of the vendors would not be present to sell their merchandise.”
Westby said she, too, operates Savvy Spaces with a single point of sale, which is critical for cutting her vendors’ expenses. She said she came up with the idea for Savvy Spaces on her own, but she was glad to hear about SMSA borrowing the idea.
“I think there’s a market (for a retail incubator) in any town or any city where there’s the rising cost of starting a business and people who want to start their own business,” Westby said. “I think there’s a need for it in every city across America.”
If the project is viable, Gregory said she hopes to see the retail incubator come to fruition in the next year, if not sooner.
“Retail is booming right now, especially downtown, and we’d like to help foster that growth in a responsible way,” Gregory said. “We think by providing an incubator space, we’d be able to do just that.”

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