Retail Incubation Growing In Downtowns

'Retail incubation' is finding footing in New Jersey and nationally as a downtown revitalization tool.

Downtowns across the country are attempting to find new and creative revitalization programs. Growing new retailers, or incubating them, is a fast-growing trend in that arena. Newton, New Jersey is attempting the process--and the article sites other cities where it has worked and has not. For example: Cedar Rapids, Portland, Michigan.

"Bringing in new entrepreneurs to help develop their businesses, and then get them out door to go off on their own. That's the idea behind one of the latest initiatives to revitalize downtown Newton--the business incubator."

"From Iowa to Michigan, retail business incubators have seen varying levels of success as the antidote to downtown business woes."

This piece brings to the fore a growing trend and a tool that can be utilized by many downtowns, while making known the attendant problems inherent with the concept.

Full Story: Sprouting Jobs In Newton




As one who is quoted in this piece, I thought it appropriate to offer my perspective. I have been working on the development of downtown entrepreneurhsip programs as an antitode, first to malls, now to BIG BOX and lifestyle centers for well over 20 years. My frustration was rooted in witnessing the anemic business recruitment efforts of downtown revitalization managers and their attendan, palpable frustration.

It has been a long haul. I traveled the country talking to downtown entrepreneurs, examined retail incubators, many of which failed due to poor planning and execution and I performed significant research not just on incubators, but on the concept of entrepreneurship in our downtowns AND URBAN COMMERCIAL CENTERS as well. I got to know the mind of the downtown entrepreneur if you will.

Now with the heightening concern over encroachment of so-called big box stores, and with a concern over losing local character my concept of downtown entrepreneurship is catching fire. Gone are the days when I would hear, "Chuck D'Aprix sees downtowns and commercial districts as entrepreneurial laboratories." Well to be truthful those days actually aren't gone, now it is said absent disdane or sarcasm and with a greater degree of understanding of what entrepreneurship means to downtowns and commercial districts.

Be clear, downtown entrepreneurship goes well beyond creating incubators and involves a host of issues related to creating an entrepreneurial environment and developing an entrepreneurial support system which extends beyond just the local Small Business Development Center. Most times it does not involve an incubator at all.

However, incubators can be an important part of the process.....but not the only componenent. Downtown entrepreneurship if developed properly,requires a comprehensive approach--but it pays off in the end. However, given that I have cultivated an interest in retail incubators(and have actually run one)--I thought the downtown revitalization community deserved an objective and far-reaching look at the topic. I receive many calls a week from people looking to start a downtown or commercial district retail incubator.

I am undertaking the largest study of retail incubators ever performed. I have a research staff on the task, and will present this as a case study that perhaps will provide some lessons on the "do's and don'ts" of creating a retail incubator----much as I do in my speeches and consulting jobs.

I was talking this week to a major organization involved in downtown revitalization and I told them I was getting many calls a week from people interested in starting incubators and asked if they wanted to be part of the study(they demurred not surprisingly). The research director asked, " Why do you think that is?" Why?? Why?? Hello?!! I would hazard a guess it is because downtown managers are frustrated with the pressures of having to recruit new businesses on a small budget, are frustrated by Boards that have unrealistic expectations and because the approach to downtown and commercial district retail development has not changed much in twenty-five years. They want to try something new--perhaps borne of frustration or perhaps our of creativity and innovation.

So I will soon have an understanding of what makes retail incubators work or not work depending on how they are managed. I hope this will add to the body of work on how to create vital retail districts. This will be added to the work I have already done on downtown entrerpeneurhship to help paint a complete picture of downtowns and commercial districts as centers of innovation. Downtowns and urban comercial districts are our last best hope at commercial creativity and retail entrepreneurship.
This is our chance to distinguihs ourselves from malls, lifestyle centers and big big boxes. Our chance to be more than just one more downtown or commercial district. Retail incubation can work if done properly and if it is part of a larger downtown/commercial district entrepreneurship program.

Chuck D'Aprix [Charles D'Aprix]
Economic Development Visions
The Downtown Entrepreneurship Project

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