Powertown Pop Up Shop Gets a Longer Shelf Life

Dec 06, 2012

First published in the Montague Reporter on December 6, 2012. Story by By PETER KOBEL

[correction: Lynn Nichols and Don Kruger's business is called Shop Western Mass not Western Mass Arts]

TURNERS FALLS - The Powertown Pop Up Shop, originally intended as a temporary holiday marketplace for local artists and artisans, will now stay in place until the end of June. Lisa Davol, director of Turners Falls RiverCulture, which had spearheaded the venture in the former Hallmark gallery on Avenue A, made the case for extending the market into summer before the Montague selectboard on Monday, Dec. 3. Board members enthusiastically endorsed the idea.

The creation of the Pop Up Shop aims to create opportunities for local artists to sell their work, to animate a vacant space in the center of town and to act as a pilot store for a longer term local arts store.

Davol arrived well prepared for her presentation with what she called her “posse” in tow. They included Lynn Nichols and Don Kruger of Western Mass Arts, who partnered with RiverCulture to create the Pop Up Shop; Christa Snyder, artist and co-founder of 2nd Street Baking Co. on 4th Street; and Erin MacLean, co-owner of LOOT. Nichols and Kruger stressed the site’s retail viability. Snyder, an entrepreneur as well as an artist, argued that artists need an outlet for their work that would allow them time to create rather than constantly focusing on promotion. MacLean said that while her store has become a destination for many out-of-town customers, more shopping and browsing spaces would help build traffic.

The Pop Up Shop building has a finished basement that could also be used as a performance or film screening space, Davol said. The Shea Theater is much larger, and a smaller, more intimate space for, say, performance artists or experimental-film screenings doesn’t exist in Turners Falls.

Davol said that the Pop Up Shop partners were considering two models. They may create something akin to a consignment shop, where artists would get a percentage of sales, with the balance going for overhead. Alternatively, they may rent “ministores” to artists.

In an interview after the meeting, Davol said, “We’ve spent years talking about having a commercial artisan gallery here. If we left it, it’d just be vacant again. We just decided, ‘Let’s make a go of it.’”

The building is owned by the town of Montague, and the Pop Up Shop isn’t paying rent, only utilities and insurance. Under the agreement, the artisans store would be retained rent-free. But in subsequent discussions with Town Administrator Frank Abbondanzio, Davol said that after January and February, they would make a “good faith” effort to pay rent.

Abbondanzio said at the meeting that it might be possible to rent the building, but that likely would not be “the best possible use.” The continued use of the space for artists and crafts people would help to “create critical mass” for the arts and retail downtown. Selectboard member Patricia Allen said that “this is what we’ve been working toward.”

Davol described the space as an “incubator” for artists who might not quite be ready for their own storefronts, but who would have the freedom to explore retailing on a smaller scale.

Kruger of Western Mass Arts noted that the Pop Up Shop was doing well financially now, but that the store would then have to weather the doldrums of winter. “It’s not 100 percent sure,” Kruger cautioned. “But nothing ever is in retail. But I think this is doable.”

The consensus was that a commercial venture allowing artists and artisans to test the retail waters would certainly help to animate downtown.

In other news, the selectboard approved the appointment of Montague Reporter writer John Furbish to the board of the Montague Economic Development Corp. in a seat reserved for representatives of the low-income community.

 

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