Short-Term Leases Next for South Memphis

By Bill Dries

The temporary storefronts are down at Mississippi Boulevard and Walker Avenue in South Memphis from this weekend’s MEMfix event.

But some of the other changes remain with plans for more to come.

Now the applications begin for a six-month test of new businesses at the same intersection.

A print of the old People’s Grocery Store from the 19th century was among the items sold in pop-up stores at MEMFix Saturday. The event centered on the South Memphis intersection of Mississippi Boulevard and Walker Avenue, which is where the store once stood.

(Daily News/Bill Dries)

The shops selling purses, barbecue and art during the Saturday, Oct. 12, event were a “temporary activation to get people to imagine what they could be in the future,” said Doug McGowen, director of the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team that organized the MEMfix event.

Four longer term pop-up businesses in the single-story brick building on the northwest corner of the intersection are to open in March followed by a MEMshop event the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team is putting together for the spring.

“Between now and March we will get a number of people to apply. We’ll review their applications, look at their business models, look at the businesses they have and we’ll select four businesses to go in and occupy those storefronts. They will get technical assistance,” McGowen said. “They’ll get some façade improvement grants. They may get some interior design grants. We’ll negotiate low market rents for them so they have as little start-up costs as possible. After six months, hopefully they will come to scale and they will be ready to be a full-fledged business. They can sign a long-term lease.”

The team’s goal is to get six businesses up and running and the goal comes with the realization that there has to be a pool of more than six.

“You start a class. You let them run for six months. If they go permanent that’s great,” McGowen said. “If they move out, you put another class in. That’s what this space is all about.”

And the MEMfix event was as much about getting prospective small-business tenants to see possibilities as it was to get potential customers to see what is possible in the area.

The city’s team works with landlords who have to be a willing partner in order for the first steps to be possible.

“The landlord has space that he wants to have occupied. An entrepreneur has a business but doesn’t have a place to do business and the neighborhood is definitely in need of a particular kind of retail. We broker those three things together,” McGowen said. “We say they are not getting any rent now. So if we can get some below-market rent and if we can spruce up the façade and the interior, that’s a long-term benefit for them. … Most people are willing to work with us on that because at the end of the day, the best way to get your space rented is to have somebody in there operating a business.”

Meanwhile, the curb extensions in the intersection – painted tan surfaces on the pavement with white plastic posts – will remain, making the intersection the first in the city to try what could become a permanent feature.

The extensions make the intersection smaller for pedestrians and as a result they cross the streets faster, which affects the timing of traffic signals for auto traffic in the area. They also serve as a reminder to drivers that they are approaching a busy intersection for foot traffic.

If the markings are accepted, they will eventually become a permanent feature of the street with a new curb structure. If they aren’t accepted, the street markings can be changed.

The Memphis Police Department from the city’s newest precinct, the nearby Crump precinct, was highly visible. Once the morning rains moved on, the police department brought out a 10-foot tall inflatable police officer with a volunteer inside. The giant police officer drew immediate attention in a neighborhood that has had its issues with crime in the past and present.