Downtown Dayton’s business ‘pop-up’ program bears fruit

The founder of Spice Paradise specialty foods and cooking shop at 8 Brown St. in Dayton’s Oregon District says her business got just the boost it needed in 2013 from a special initiative designed to fill vacant downtown Dayton storefronts.

“It gave us a great step up as far as finding a location and offering a lot of exposure at the start,” Spice Paradise owner Ulrike Massey said of the Activated Spaces Pop-Up project. “And it helped us avoid the most common pitfalls that start-up businesses face.”

The Pop-Up project matches prospective business owners with downtown property owners who have first-floor storefront space available for occupancy for temporary retail, service, and office businesses. The project is part of the Greater Downtown Dayton plan and is affiliated with or supported by several entities and groups, including the Downtown Dayton Partnership; the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce’s Generation Dayton; UpDayton; the City of Dayton; the city’s Neighborhood Mini-Grant program; and by community volunteers.

Of the 16 businesses that have been launched through the pop-up program since its inception in 2011, 11 are still operating — and some of those businesses have moved to larger spaces or have added new locations.

“This has had a huge impact on the downtown,” said Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership. “These 60- or 90-day leases have turned into long-term businesses.” And they’ve added all-important activity to the first-floor storefronts that are the first things that visitors, residents and workers notice when walking downtown, Gudorf said.

Stephanie Precht, director of public policy and economic development for the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, said the Activated Space project “is changing the landscape of Downtown Dayton and providing the opportunity for new business owners and entrepreneurs to grow and thrive in our city.”

The initiative “has had a noticeable impact on the vibrancy of downtown,” Precht said.

Here’s how the program works: entrepreneurs apply to open a shop, and if accepted, they are hooked up with commercial property owners that have expressed interest in offering retail space to Pop-Up shop owners. Lease lengths range from three to six months, and lease rates vary, but the amount of rent will be below market value.

Volunteers in the program help make the space move-in ready, and also help promote the business.

Once a landlord-tenant match is made, business owners become eligible for a stipend for the first three months to help offset start-up costs. After the temporary lease period is complete, the business owners can negotiate lease extensions. Some have moved and/or expanded.

Brendan O’Brien — founder of another Activated Spaces “alumni” business, Vintage Barbershop at 110 W. Fifth St. — now has five barbers in addition to himself taking care of customers at the Dayton location he launched in May 2012. And now, he’s a couple of weeks away from opening a second location, Aviators Barbershop, at 17 Perry St. in Vandalia, where he has hired two additional barbers.

Utilizing the pop-up shop program “was definitely a great move for me,” O’Brien said. “It helps to have some time to establish yourself.”

O’Brien said he sought and benefited from advice from the founders of Beaute Box, a neighbor of his shop on West Fifth Street that was among the pilot pop-up businesses in November 2011. And he, in turn, helped a fellow barber, James Hicks, when Hicks opened Hicks’ Barber Shop at 16 Brown St. in September 2013.

“We’ve got a good little network,” O’Brien said.

In 2013, the International Downtown Association singled out the Activated Spaces Pop-Up Program as the top economic and business development project, giving it one of 12 “Pinnacle” awards awarded in North America.

Jen Cadieux, business development manager for the Downtown Dayton Partnership, said a free workshop on the pop-up shop project application and on starting or expanding a small business will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 4 in the Entrepreneurs Center at 714 E. Monument Ave., Dayton. Those attending should RSVP to Cadieux at

Interested retailers or office space seekers can download an application at, and email it to The application deadline is 5 p.m. March 13. Tenants will be selected the week of March 30, and retailers must be ready to open no later than the end of May.

Those interested in volunteering with Activated Spaces should e-mail

For more information, go to

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