Kenneth Scales used to meet his customers wherever they were, even sometimes in alleys, to sell his bespoke beard oil, but this week he has a new shop in a well-known office tower in downtown Minneapolis.
Scales and about 50 other small businesses on Monday opened in vacant retail spaces in the Gaviidae Common as part of the Chameleon Shoppes pop-up pilot. The initiative is aimed at revitalizing vacant storefronts in downtown office buildings with small retailers that would not typically operate in the downtown core. The majority of the businesses are minority- or women-owned.
“This is kind of like putting our flag in downtown Minneapolis,” Scales said, as he displayed his BowTie Billionaire beard care products in a first floor space in Gaviidae.
Scales, who started selling his “billi boxes” of products in 2016, is in about 15 different barber and beauty shops across the Twin Cities but he jumped at the chance to bring his business downtown.
Pop-up shops have become an increasingly popular form of retail with temporary shops opening at events at Union Depot in St. Paul, the Mall of America and in other buildings in downtown Minneapolis such as City Center.
Chameleon Shoppes is a project created by the Minneapolis Downtown Council-led Chameleon Consortium that allows retailers to test the downtown market, which often can be cost prohibitive for small businesses.
“Having your own space in this economy, the way that retail is going, is a real challenge,” said Joe Skifter, who was with his husband, Steven Howard, to sell their handmade Dancing Bear Chocolate on Monday.
Gaviidae has a large space on the skyway level with two other shared spaces on the street level for Chameleon Shoppes. On Friday, a barbershop will open in another space on the first floor. Products range from pop art to silk-screen T-shirts to flavored popcorn. Planners launched the pilot this week to try to take advantage of the foot traffic associated with the Final Four NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at U.S. Bank Stadium. Chameleon Shoppes will run through April 26.
The businesses pay 15 percent of sales for rent and 5 percent for credit card and marketing fees for a total of 20 percent.
“It opens that door for a lot more people that likely wouldn’t have seen us,” said Sabrina Jones, who makes her own line of skin care, wellness and aromatherapy Body Love Products.
The program can also be an asset for office buildings; retail vacancy in downtown Minneapolis has ranged from 10 to 20 percent in the past five years due to several big-box retailers vacating the area.
Discussions about the idea started a year ago with the group receiving a $20,000 grant from the city of Minneapolis to help with branding and funding from the McKnight Foundation to finance a University of Minnesota study on the program’s potential.
Several organizations have helped the initiative, including Impact Hub MSP, which is serving as the administrative partner, Neka Creative, which worked on the branding, and Shop Northside, a program of the West Broadway Business and Area Coalition that helped recruit some of the businesses.
On Monday, business was slow especially on the street level which doesn’t benefit as much from skyway traffic. However, Christina Ashford, owner of Tina Dionne Fashion, remained positive about the importance of the exposure.
“I think it’s really important for us to be here,” she said. “Having the opportunity to be on Nicollet Mall, it’s powerful.”