From MemFix to MemShop to Night Market, it is possible to do more than imagine what a streetscape with locally owned small businesses and lots of foot traffic might look like.
The three efforts aimed to show the possibilities for small businesses by getting them in storefronts on a temporary basis are bearing fruit in a number of ways. It’s a tactic that easily lends itself to the term “economic gardening.”
But before we get caught up in buzzwords and pie-in-the-sky possibilities, let’s keep a realistic view of what these efforts are about. They are a chance for a building owner or developer to see how a small-business tenant could fare if given a chance.
Will customers come to the area? What will they do when they come to the area? How long will they stay? Will they just look around and leave without opening their wallets?
These are still business decisions that the city’s Innovation Delivery Team is facilitating for a purpose that goes beyond the bottom line of a retail operation. The team’s broader goal is to bring life back to communities, including small business and residential development.
There will inevitably be tensions about what new life means for old areas. But our hope is this movement will also work on a coexistence of new and old. The bridge between the two is realizing the places Memphians have to live by circumstance do not have to be places the rest of us avoid or seek to isolate our contact with.
Soulsville’s retail center has struggled to find something as basic as a supermarket in an area that is a food desert. The talks have continued through a recession and a series of Memphis Symphony concerts in what is still planned as a supermarket. Meanwhile, the school children you will see coming and going to school any weekday morning and afternoon attend the Soulsville charter school just across McLemore. And that is just around the corner from the new residence hall at LeMoyne-Owen College.
Can that kind of momentum and promise extend to Mississippi and Walker and a business with the heritage and tradition of the Four Way Grill?
We certainly hope it can. Because we believe the path that grows to include the Four Way Grill also works going the other way to bring even more people into an already bustling area that is ripe for retail.
The Innovation Delivery Team has defined risk in terms of the dollar figure that is the difference between getting into a storefront or not. It then becomes a tangible point on which to make a specific decision.
These areas are at or near the point of specific business decisions that can lead to more decisions that can then create new life and revive long held hopes.