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Popping up at Portage Place

Businesses get a taste of downtown 'dream'

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A pilot project by the Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone will assess the need for a permanent incubator / pop-up store downtown.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

A pilot project by the Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone will assess the need for a permanent incubator / pop-up store downtown. Photo Store

For local fashion designer Lennard Taylor, it was an offer that was too good to pass up.

Jason Syvixay, managing director of the Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone (BIZ) sent him an email last week asking if he wanted to participate in a three-week pilot project to assess the need and importance of establishing a youth entrepreneur incubator in the downtown.

He would be one of seven entrepreneurs/small businesses who would get to operate a small pop-up store for three weeks in a store-front incubator space on the second floor of the Portage Place Shopping Centre.

The participating businesses would gain first-hand experience at running a mini-retail outlet and see how the public responds to their products or services. And the BIZ and Portage Place would get a sense of whether it would be worthwhile to set up a permanent incubator/pop-up store. The hope would be it could pave the way for the participating businesses to eventually open their own shops in the downtown.

"I called them instantly and said 'Yes!' " Taylor said Tuesday at the official launch of the Launch It! pilot project.

Taylor said he currently leases space on the fourth floor of an Osborne Street building, where he designs and produces his own lines of clothing and accessories -- things like jeans, jackets, dresses, purses and leather holsters. Although he sells to the public out of his factory, he doesn't have a storefront location in the city.

"So to be part of something in the downtown is ideal for me," he said. "There is a really diverse demographic walking through these halls (in the mall). That's why it's such great exposure (for his business)."

Two other project participants -- Synonym Art Consultation co-owner Chloe Chafe and Oi Furniture founder and CEO Jason Abbott -- were equally keen to be involved.

"This is great because we (her and co-owner Andrew Eastman) get to see what would work if we were to open a shop or gallery (in the downtown)," Chafe said.

"That's really our dream -- to have our own (downtown) gallery or office."

"This is a very cost-effective way to interact with customers," Abbott added. "And right away you can get a very clear sense of how viable your product is."

Abbott, whose firm designs and manufactures modular seating systems for homes, businesses and public spaces, said he'd like to see the incubator become a permanent fixture in the downtown.

The seven businesses are sharing a roughly 4,000-square-foot space near the entrance to the Carlton Street skywalk. The front half of the space is where their mini-shops are located, and the back half has been divided into small offices they can use.

Downtown BIZ executive director Stefano Grande said the BIZ and Portage Place are keen to see how well the concept works and to get feedback from the participants and the public.

Grande and Portage Place general manager David Stone, who donated the space, said if the project is successful, they'll see if they can make it a permanent fixture.

Stone said one possibility would be to allow participants to stay in the incubator for six months or a year, rather than just a few weeks.

"That would give them an opportunity to get that exposure and get their business going and solidify their marketing plans and their customer base," he added.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 26, 2014 B6

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