Back on course

The former location of Thompson’s Drug Store — and, more recently, Angeli Winery — will serve as a retail incubator for small business start-ups to get their feet under them before moving onto independent downtown locations.

One month before flames tore through the upper floor of the Towne Square Building in early 2015, a meeting to gauge local interest in creating a retail incubator was held in an empty storefront on the building’s first floor.

By any measure, that preliminary meeting was a success, in that 16 potential tenants attended to gather information and pitch ideas of their own.

Among those attending were woodworkers, fiber artists, wool producers, and photographers.

The more than 2,000-square-foot retail space along the 100 block of South Franklin Street is the former home to Angeli Winery and Thompson’s Drug Store.

As the Towne Square rebuilding project continues the historic building’s recovery from smoke and water damage on its upper floors, officials are ready to jump back into the retail incubator discussion.

A meeting regarding the establishment of the incubator will be held Oct. 26, from 5:30 to 7 p.m., in the community room at Benson Memorial Library, Titusville Community Development Agencies (TCDA) announced in a Monday press release.

A branch of the agency’s, Titusville Redevelopment Authority owns the building.

The retail incubator will be a year-round brick and mortar location for retail vendors to sell their handmade products.

“It’s been in a bit of a holding pattern,” said Deb Eckelberger, business outreach coordinator at TCDA, in an interview Monday. “But, we didn’t forget about it. We stayed in contact with people and compiled a database of potential tenants. We’re back engaged.”

Eckelberger, expressing much of the same optimism about the idea as was stated during the February 2015 meeting, added, “There are so many talented people here.”

The initiative is in partnership with the Gannon University Small Business Development Center, which will serve as an invaluable resource for the area’s entrepreneurs in business plan development, customer profile information, business marketing data, and mentoring for continued support “to ensure success,” according to the press release.

“It’s a partnership to help them grow,” Eckelberger explained — the end goal being a vibrant retail business environment, with higher downtown storefront occupancy.

The success of six such retailers that had utilized Franklin’s Liberty Galleria before moving into independent store fronts was noted by Eckelberger as a proven path to be followed by Titusville.

“That sort of model is want we want here,” she said.

James Babcock, the Crawford County consultant at Gannon’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC), told The Herald that retail incubators are helping towns across the country return to stronger downtown economies by helping entrepreneurs get their feet under them before accumulating overhead costs.

“It offers small start-up retailers the opportunity to grow their business without the cost of purchasing or renting their own storefronts,” he said. “It allows them to get a foothold in the market. By having a retail incubator, they’re able to invest in the business and grow the business, then move out and become a viable business in the community.”

Babcock, who plans to attend the Oct. 26 meeting, said countless communities are already utilizing such spaces to benefit their downtowns.

“It’s a concept that’s very useful in smaller, rural areas, where the local economy is not able to support the full cost of a start-up retailer for the first year or so,” he explained. “It gives the small retailers a head start. They’re quite common across the country right now, especially in towns that are trying to save their main streets and repopulate their business section.

“This is one of our goals — to ensure that small businesses have a decent shot at surviving.”

For anyone with a start-up business idea who would like to attend the upcoming meeting, RSVPs are not necessary, but they are appreciated, and can be made by calling Eckelberger, at 827-3668 or deckelberger@tcda.org.

Sterling can be reached by email, at jsterling@titusvilleherald.com.

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