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Jamilla Naji art at 78th St Studios - Photo Bob Perkoski
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can multiple pop-ups turn around blighted strip in st. clair superior?

Pop-up shops, business-plan competitions and storefront incubators have been successful at attracting new stores to trendy neighborhoods like Detroit Shoreway and Tremont. But can they turn around a blighted retail district and help sprout small businesses in a down-at-the-heels east side neighborhood?

That's the question Michael Fleming, Executive Director of the St. Clair Superior Development Corporation (SCSDC), is determined to answer in the affirmative.

Fleming and several other partners recently launched Retail Ready, an initiative that aims to attract as many as 10 new businesses to St. Clair Avenue between E. 61st Street and Addison Avenue. The program offers tenants free rent for the first six months, business development services, marketing and security.

Fleming was inspired by an article he read about Popuphood, an effort in Oakland, Calif., that attracted several fleeting pop-up shops to co-locate in a single retail strip that had suffered a surfeit of vacancies. Why not here? Fleming wondered.

But Fleming doesn't want the businesses to leave. His long-term goal is to seed the St. Clair Superior neighborhood with new retail that restores a long-blighted strip.

"If we position it right, we could have a nice complete neighborhood within a few blocks," says Fleming, who envisions a coffee shop, art gallery, restaurant and bakery in the mix. He stresses that SCSDC wants a diverse mix of existing and startup businesses. "We have 10,000 residents south of St. Clair Avenue and 10,000 employees who work north of St. Clair. They could support this."

The key to success, Fleming believes, is properly vetting the businesses to ensure they're ready and by offering the right mix of support services -- including marketing, storefront redesign and security -- to help them flourish.

"Just having new stores won't do it," says Fleming, who is working with the Urban League to vet businesses and the Cleveland Neighborhood Development Coalition (CNDC) and LAND Studio to hire artists that will artistically redesign drab storefronts. SCSDC is also planning to hire a private security force to patrol the street.

St. Clair Superior is plagued by retail vacancies, yet this stretch of St. Clair is home to Empress Taytu (an Ethiopian restaurant), the Slovenian National Home, several existing businesses and historic buildings. The assets are there, says Fleming -- now he just needs savvy entrepreneurs (and customers).

"We think there are people there to support it. It's a matter of changing people's opinions."


Source: Michael Fleming
Writer: Lee Chilcote
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