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Activated Spaces program boosts downtown development

The city’s Activated Spaces program to locate retail outlets in vacant downtown Dayton storefronts has grown sharply since October with merchants taking over 10,000 square feet as new stores open and others expand.

Along with other activity by business, downtown Dayton has filled more first-floor space in the past 18 months than in the past decade, said Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership.

The Activated Spaces program marks an increase from 5,700 square feet last year. The idea is for niche retailers to open “Pop Up Shops” that fill empty street-level space for at least three to six months. Of the nine new shops started since fall of 2011, seven still are in business.

One, American Pi, is signing a long-term lease and doubling space in the St. Clair Lofts building as demand rises for its “Made in USA” products. Interest from entrepreneurs has been strong. The program has chosen its supported businesses from among 50 applicants.

Two stores have opened since May: Green Baby, which sells environmentally friendly, chemical-free household products to mothers of small children, and All Pilates, a small exercise studio with individual instruction.

The program, under the umbrella of the Downtown Dayton Partnership, provides a $250 monthly lease stipend for the first three months to help the retailer through start up.

Money for the stipends comes from donations and grants. Volunteers from two young professionals’ organizations, Up Dayton and Generation Dayton, provide marketing, graphic design and networking help.

Green Baby co-owner Aislinn Zappe, a mother of two children ages five and one, showed off shelves of locally-made lotions, soaps and other goods that emphasize a “Made in USA” theme. There are reusable cloth diapers and baby slings.

Zappe, 30, who returned to her hometown after working in Washington D.C. as a marketer, researched demand for affordable and eco-friendly baby products before embarking on the store. “It was a necessary space to fill,” she said. “Natural parenting does not have to come with a big price tag.”

Organizers are now seeking applicants for businesses that want to open up this fall. The deadline is July 19. Both retail and service businesses may apply. From two to three new tenants will be selected from among the applicants during the week of July 29. Retailers must be ready to open no later than Friday, Sept. 20, in time for the fall Urban Nights event.

The seven businesses still open: Beaute Box, 116 W. Fifth St.; Peace on Fifth, 508 E. Fifth St.; American Pi, 37 S. St. Clair St.; Vintage Barbershop, 110 W. Fifth St.; Sew Dayton, 16 Brown St.; Green Baby, 31 S. St. Clair St.; and All Pilates, 27 S. St. Clair St.

Scott Murphy, an Activated Spaces volunteer, said momentum continues to build. “We want to keep pushing and keep filling as spaces become available,” he said. “It’s an avenue for local business owners to get a start downtown with minimal risk. At some point, we won’t need activated spaces and the market will take care of itself.”

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