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Local pop-up store spurs variety downtown

BY MATT STARNS | DECEMBER 02, 2011 7:20 AM

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A new seasonal store downtown is taking a local approach to holiday shopping.

December, 30 S. Clinton St., is a partnership among Catherine Champion, the owner of Catherine's, 7 S. Dubuque St., Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St., and Hands Jewelry, 109 E. Washington St. The group opened the seasonal retail location in mid-November.

Champion said she came up with the concept for December — which will close at the end of the month — through her work for Art Plus Craft, a craft fair she created with the Iowa City Downtown Association.

"I moved to town, and I saw a definite hole in the market for people to sell their goods that they make," she said. "We did it as a local place for people to sell their goods for the holidays. We really don't turn anybody away."

Champion also said she felt local artisans might feel more comfortable working with December than with retailers with fewer ties to the community.

"Everybody makes something," Champion said. "Because Hands and Prairie Lights and Catherine's are so established, it lends it some credence."

Colin Gordon, a UI professor of 20th century U.S. history and senior research consultant for the Iowa Policy Project, said these seasonal pop-up businesses are a great way to maximize use of downtown retail space.

"One of the things we had talked about was the city being flexible in its use of the downtown space," he said. "This is something shopping malls have done for a long time when they have empty spots."
Gordon also said the opportunities to open these temporary stores aren't as abundant as some might think.

"It's not something that commercial property owners often do," he said. "If they give three months to a pop-up store, they can't rent [the space] to a long-term tenant during that time."

Regardless, Gordon said these stores are an important way for artisans and local entrepreneurs to sell their goods without the risks of a long-term retail lease.

"One of the real obstacles toward small-business creation and success is the burden of commercial leases," he said. "If you're not sure what you're making or what you're selling, it can be very tough to make that commitment."

Gordon also said this small-business model is a great way to create jobs in the community.

"If we follow from the widely recognized fact that most job creation comes from these smaller businesses — and they fail at an alarming rate — it seems to me that one of the more sensible kinds of development subsidies is to have this kind of model," he said. "One version is the pop-up store."

City Councilor Connie Champion — the mother of Catherine Champion — said she is optimistic about the store's short tenure downtown.

"It's been very successful. People really seem to love it," she said.


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