Q&A with Diane Laird, state coordinator, Downtown Delaware

Project Pop-Up from the Delaware Economic Development Office has been a resounding success. Diane Laird, State Coordinator for Downtown Delaware, oversees it. She said of 18 small businesses selected in four years, 17 have signed long-term leases.

In 2015, the program helped an art studio in Dover, a Laurel physical therapy office, a wellness and fitness studio in Delaware City and a Milford bakery. It helps with business plans and provides three months’ free rent.

      BY THE NUMBERS

      ♦ 3 months rent-free for start-ups

      ♦ 4 Pop-Up businesses in 2015: a Dover art studio, a physical therapy office in Laurel, a Delaware City fitness studio and a bakery in Milford

      ♦ 18 businesses in the program since 2011

      ♦  17 have signed long-term leases

      ♦  INFO: inde.delaware.gov/popup

Q What’s the best of Project Pop-Up for 2015?

A We’re very excited that DEDO was able to work with landlords to help four businesses launch or expand their services, as well as sign long-term leases. We were especially excited to work with the towns of Laurel and Delaware City, as they were first-time participants. The Delaware City space, which was brand new construction, had been vacant for some time before Pea Patch Yoga and Wellness Studio located there. It is an ideal business for that space.

It costs nothing for Delaware taxpayers. Suitable properties, ready for quick occupancy, are integral. Landlords donate three months of free rent to give these fledgling business owners a running start toward long-term success.

Q How many do you expect in 2016?

A The economic development office determines in May/June each year whether to run the program or not, and we base our decision mainly on surveys to our downtown constituents which helps us determine need. Over the past four years, we have been able to market an average of 10 vacant properties, and typically filled at least half. Each county has seen significant wins in terms of good, strong businesses.

Q Why such a success rate?

A The program was designed to address two significant needs: help stimulate entrepreneurial activity and reduce downtown vacancies. The businesses that are most successful have shown a strong readiness to occupy a brick and mortar space as they are already generating some revenue, have a customer base [even if small], and they are typically using the Internet for sales and marketing.

In addition, downtown property owners are very often willing to partner with us to find tenants due to our statewide marketing which captures a broad net of applicants.

Our downtown communities are the beneficiaries -- they not only welcome sustainable and appropriate new businesses but they see lights go on in spaces that, in some cases, have been dark for years.

Q What do you think the future holds?

A We very much look forward to continuing the program. In time, some communities may consider launching local Pop-Up programs, some of which could be run on a year-round basis.