Former Target executives Chris Walton and Anne Mezzenga have gone from working on big-box stores to thinking about how they can better market products made by small local retailers.

In time for the holiday rush and Small Business Saturday, the pair has launched web portal,, to help consumers shop online from Twin Cities small retailers. Walton and Mezzenga hope to spread the network to other Midwestern metros.

"People are concerned about shopping safely. I think people are also concerned about their small businesses, how do they continue to support them, especially in Minneapolis given everything that has gone on over the summer," Walton said. "We wanted to create something for them in that vein using our background in technology and retail."

Urban Rooster recently featured about a dozen Twin Cities shops including sock and apparel company Hippy Feet, Arway bags and accessories and Muddy Mouth Cards. Shoppers can also browse products recommended by Twin Cities influencers such as restaurateur Justin Sutherland.

Urban Rooster charges the retailer a small percentage of each sale to cover the maintenance costs of the site. The majority of money from the fee over the holiday season is being donated to nonprofit Best Christmas Ever to help provide holiday experiences to families going through economic difficulties, Mezzenga said.

"Going forward, there's a possibility that that will change, but as of right now, we're focused on really just giving back to our community," she said.

There has been a surge in temporary local pop-up markets as well as more permanent in-person shops that feature local makers.

The Mall of America has experimented with pop-up retail for years and this fall launched a storefront for small businesses owned by women and people of color called Community Commons.

Rosedale Center's Rose & Loon store features a revolving collective of local artisans. However, most of the products aren't available on one website to buy online.

"Those are great," Walton said about in-person pop-ups. "But they're physical, so the point of what we were trying to do was, how do we create something similar but do it online … because with the pandemic the physicality of that can be hamstringing for a lot of people."

At Urban Rooster, the checkout process is streamlined so that shoppers can easily browse by category, shop or influencer and make purchases without having to click through to individual stores' sites, Walton said.

Walton and Mezzenga left Target in 2017 after working on the retailer's store of the future innovation concept. They came together to host the retail blog and podcast Omni Talk, and last year the two started their own co-working and lab space dedicated to retail called Third Haus in south Minneapolis.

In the second phase of Urban Rooster, the pair would like to expand to include other Midwest cities such as Des Moines, Iowa; Detroit; and Omaha, Neb. A possible later step could be to add a physical space, possibly using its Third Haus location, Walton said.

This holiday season, consumers are expected to shop more online as the coronavirus pandemic continues to pose safety threats to the general public. While earlier data showed there would be an overall muted demand for gifts this Black Friday and remainder of the season because of the virus and the economy, some recent numbers have been more optimistic about the growth in holiday spending.

On Monday, the National Retail Federation predicted holiday sales during November and December would rise between 3.6% and 5.2% compared with last year for a total spend as high as $766.7 billion.

The predicted growth could be an increase over the average holiday sales jump of 3.5% the country has seen over the past five years.