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DENVER (KDVR) — The Downtown Denver Partnership is desperately trying to fill empty storefronts along the 16th Street Mall, so they’re practically paying business owners to move in. 

The Downtown Denver Partnership and Denver Economic Development and Opportunity announced a second round of the Popup Denver downtown storefront activation program that was piloted last year. 

Security Concerns

Drug use and crime concerns remain a top issue for businesses along 16th Street. A recent safety forum went in-depth on those numbers.

Denver Downtown Partnerships said they’ve learned a lot from last year’s popup program, and their goal this time is to combat the issues that deterred businesses from sticking around. Many of those concerns were safety and security issues. 

“I think there is a future here as long as they can beef up security. Other people do move into these businesses, so they can guarantee safety,” said David Jones, a local.

He added that he understands the struggle that businesses face because he’s seen it firsthand.

“People can’t go in, can’t even go by the store without being threatened and harassed [by people on the street]. And businesses, on the same token, are at high risk as well,” Jones said “[People are] hanging out panhandling, and if they ask them to move then they’re going to be a target and [people will] bust out the window. Some of them do carry knives, guns, and stuff like that, so they’re just scared. The business, they don’t want to be threatened when the police or security should be doing their job.”

Round 1 recap 

Last year, there were five vacant spots up for grabs for any business owners looking to expand their brand to a brick-and-mortar location or expand their reach to the downtown Denver market.

In 2021, the businesses selected got three months of free rent and a stipend to get them off their feet.  

From that round, Sarah Wiebenson, with the Downtown Denver Partnership, said two businesses remained in their spot and one is moving nearby and is under construction. 

Weibenson explained that technically, they added a sixth location to the first round. The Business Improvement District Security Office is what moved in.  

“That was really intended to provide a visible private presence for our security officers downtown. So, they are sharing a space with the art installation IEM Designs,” said Wiebenson. 

Image En Mouvement is a collective that was created to bring art to life via visual digital displays of dancers to be enjoyed by all.  

Additionally, she said the Museum for Black Girls wanted to remain downtown, but they made plans to relocate several blocks down to the Denver Pavillions. That new location is currently under construction.  

So, why do they think people were not able to stick it out? 

“The initial stage of the program was really about activation. We weren’t really sure whether it would lead to long-term leases or not because we didn’t quite know what it would take to do that,” said Wiebenson.So, what we were able to learn is that going from a digitally native brand, or somebody who is selling goods that they’ve designed and created, to a storefront is really a pretty big gap. So this next step, we’re going to be trying to fill that gap by providing what we call wraparound services.”    

This contributes to the changes they’re making in round two to help businesses be more successful.  

Round 2 changes 

This year, they have created two separate tracks, one is the Maker Track and the other is the Explorer Track. 

The Maker Track is for Colorado entrepreneurs who have developed a successful retail product and are likely selling online and require additional technical assistance to develop their brand before moving into storefront operations. 

About 30 makers and creators will be chosen to fill the pilot retail collective presented by Wells Fargo at 303 16th St. in the Republic Plaza.

That way, they can showcase their product in the shared retail space and it will be operated by someone with storefront operating experience. Those selected for that space will not pay base rent for a year, they will also include financial literacy and small business assistance as well as a security assessment.  

There will also be a pilot kitchen collective presented by JP Morgan Chase at 500 16th St. at the Denver Pavilions and feature the cuisine of local immigrant, Indigenous, and refugee chefs operated by the Denver nonprofit R Bazaar Global Kitchen. 

The Explorer Track is for experienced Colorado retail stores and bakery/café operators who have not yet tested a downtown Denver location. There are two retail and one bakery location up for grabs. The businesses chosen will not have a base rent for six months and receive a $20,000 stipend to get started. 

A few of the requirements for joining the track ask that business owners need to have been in operation for at least two years, have no more than three existing locations and earn annual gross revenue of less than $2 million in 2022 for each operating storefront.  

Interested businesses may apply at the Popup Denver website

If you’d like to sit in on a virtual Q&A session before or after applying on Monday, Feb. 13, from 10-11 a.m. Click here to register.   

Applications for the second round of popups is due by March 3.