As commercial rents rise and downtown real estate becomes more homogenized, small retailers, makers and creators may find it increasingly hard to set up shop on Main Street. But what is Main Street without locally and independently owned businesses? A new trend, retail incubators like Norfolk’s Selden Market aim to preserve the vibrancy of downtown and sustain Main Street as a safe haven for small business.
In Norfolk, Virginia, Selden Market will offer affordable retail space in a historic, downtown location. The Selden Arcade opened in 1931, and over the years, it has housed a barber shop, a furniture store, a shoe store, small offices and a cultural arts center. In 2003, the city of Norfolk purchased the Main Street building to prevent it from being torn down. Now, it is part of ongoing revitalization efforts – once a series of old, underused buildings, Selden Market now sits between a newly opened, state-of-the-art public library and a popular, luxury hotel.
The idea behind Selden Market is simple, but important: Small businesses will have access to affordable, short-term leases in a walkable, downtown area. As a retail incubator, Selden Market offers “incubator storefronts” for emerging businesses, with spaces ranging from $225 to $325 per month. Those spaces are leased just six months at a time, reducing risk for young businesses. The market also offers a small number of “mentor business storefronts,” which provide established businesses with one-year leases and optional renewals for $550 to $900 per month. In exchange for a downtown storefront and competitive lease terms, mentor businesses are expected to share their time and expertise with the emerging businesses throughout the rest of the market. Finally, the market also offers pop-up spaces, which range from $100 per week to $300 per month.
Set to open this fall, Selden Market creates a timely opportunity for southeastern Virginia’s small businesses. Just last year, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance released a report that showed the struggle small and independent businesses face when searching for affordable retail space. The report noted that commercial rents are rising across the country, but small businesses, in particular, face incredibly high rent costs. In Louisville, Kentucky, for instance, the lease rate for a small business could be more than twice the lease rate for a big-box retailer.
If small businesses become completely priced out of downtown commercial centers, a community’s vibrancy is sure to suffer. Recognizing the value of a diverse network of small businesses, the Downtown Norfolk Council launched in 2015 its Vibrant SpacesTM program, which offers grants and other incentives for new and small businesses to join downtown Norfolk. Selden Market is a product of the Vibrant Spaces initiative.
Throughout the country, small and local businesses make Main Street a destination. In Norfolk, Selden Market and the Vibrant Spaces program ensure that those small and local businesses can set up shop and remain on Main Street, despite rising commercial rents elsewhere. For more information about Selden Market, visit www.vibrantspaces.com/selden-market/.