Open to little fanfare
An art studio in Dover, a cake pop shop in Milford and a physical therapy office in Laurel.
All three Project Pop-Up businesses opened this fall, and a new yoga studio is slated to open in Delaware City next month.
Yet those businesses have not received any of the fanfare that is typical of the annual state-run program, which provides rent-free space to select startups during the prime holiday shopping months.
In the past, the Delaware Economic Development Office announced its new class of Project Pop-Up businesses by early October.
Ribbons were cut, grand openings held and media coverage provided, all before Small Business Saturday arrived the weekend after Thanksgiving.
So why did none of that happen this year?
“We’ve learned it isn’t always helpful to make a big announcement before these Pop-Up businesses have a chance to work out all the kinks,” said Diane Laird, who oversees the program for DEDO.
One underprepared business, she said, had to cancel its scheduled grand opening last year, an awkward situation DEDO was hoping to avoid this go-round.
“It’s hard enough opening a business without the added pressure of having to prepare for this big event,” she said.
Launched in 2012, the federally funded Project Pop-Up matches business owners with landlords willing to temporarily provide space free of cost. Landlords in a downtown business district get to fill an otherwise vacant storefront, while the businesses get training and marketing assistance from DEDO – a head start both sides hope will eventually lead to a lease beyond the holidays.
Of the 14 businesses selected to participate since 2012, 13 are still in business and nine have signed leases for their original Pop-Up location, according to DEDO.
This year, Project Pop-Up offered 13 commercial properties in seven towns – two more storefronts and two more communities than in 2014. However, only three businesses were approved with a fourth added in recent weeks.
Laird said three of those businesses have signed a yearlong lease, while the fourth is negotiating a similar deal.
“A push for the holidays is great,” Laird said. “But our focus is on making sure these businesses will be open a year from now rather than just a few weeks on the front end.”
New Jersey transplants Albert and Keila Sierra signed a lease for a 1,500-square-foot storefront at 22 S. Walnut St. in Milford almost three months before their new cake pop shop, Petite Sweets, opened on Nov. 6
“We actually called the landlord about renting the space before we even knew about Project Pop-Up,” said Albert Sierra, a former franchise restaurant operator. “We would have opened our store here anyway, but this program has given us a lot of help.”