Micro-retail space in downtown Durham aimed at helping small businesses

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Tuesday, August 1, 2023
Micro-retail space in Durham aimed at helping small businesses
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In a partnership between non-profits Downtown Durham Inc. and Echo, owners are offered business guidance and the opportunity to work out of the location

As she delicately places beads onto a mini Carolina Panthers helmet, the doors to Back to the South Bling remain open.

"I don't think people realize I can hear them, but it's great because it's honest," said owner Lynn Woods, noting responses she's received from people walking past her storefront.

She launched her business in early 2020, initially focusing on mugs and tumblers, though she's now branched out to clothing and the wedding industry. Until recently, she had operated solely online.

Now, she'll be able to work out of a micro-retail space on W. Main Street in downtown Durham.

"One of the things I love is actually talking to my customers. I do markets around town, but markets are here and there. This is more every day, so I get to interact with my customers. I get immediate feedback, I get to hear what they like, what they don't like. So it's been very, very helpful," said Woods.

As part of a partnership between non-profits Downtown Durham Inc. and Echo, owners are offered business guidance and the opportunity to work out of the location at a significantly reduced rate for a period of time.

"I've already made changes to the products that are in the window, how I've had things arranged, ideas," Woods explained.

It's geared towards women and minority-owned businesses, groups that are typically underrepresented. According to the 2021 Annual Business Survey, just 20% of businesses were minority-owned and 21% were woman-owned.

"It has been wonderful for brand awareness. I think that's the other issue that small businesses have, especially when you're just starting out in your new is letting people know you exist I mean, you can have the best product in the world, but if nobody knows you're around, it's not going to work," said Woods.

"70% of our businesses that are small, street-level businesses were started in Durham, and 90% of them were started in North Carolina. And we want to do all we can to support that and uplift that and find opportunities for more so those opportunities increase. And if more of them are minority-owned, women-owned and small, even better," said Downtown Durham Inc. President and CEO Nicole Thompson.

Woods will be in the location through December, with Thompson sharing that the goal is to have retailers in place for at least three months, a period long enough to gain an understanding of its respective fit in the market.

In the midst of a fast-growing population, Thompson noted the need to draw more retail options.

"We estimate that we have about 7,000 to 8000 people, maybe as close to 9,000 people living in and around the downtown area. They need places a shop. It's a different market than we were 25-30 years ago when it was more office-driven," said Thompson.

Thompson believes the program can serve as a learning opportunity for both the participating businesses and Downtown Durham Inc., as they work to learn more about operations and existing challenges throughout the area.

"(It's) really kind of incubating, working with them, working with our partner at echo, supporting them, helping them market (and) push information out and just give them business and offer to our residents, our business owners, our workers, our visitors another opportunity to help and support small, locally-owned businesses," Thompson said.

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