DENVER — Round two of the Downtown Denver Partnership’s Popup Denver officially launched last week. The program gives local entrepreneurs the chance to set up shop on 16th Street Mall with free rent and a stipend for storefront and marketing.
Round two will award eight businesses the opportunity, up from five businesses in round one. DDP said it has taken lessons from the pilot, which launched last year, to improve the process and hopefully increase the prospects for long term business success.
Of the five businesses chosen in Popup Denver's first round, three have since closed and one is still under construction.
Image En Mouvement, an art installation produced by entrepreneurs at Dance2B in downtown Denver, is still operating and will continue through the month of February. Unlike the other small businesses selected in round one, IEM was created to be a free experience for passersbys on 16th Street Mall.
A series of still image and video panels, set to music, tell an intergalactic tale of “The Adventures of Captain Eon” through time and space.
“We wanted to present something that was for all ages and all races, that was inclusive,” said producer Henry Graham. “It’s always fun to see people’s reactions to it, because some people will look at it like it’s weird and then some people will connect to it. And some people will bring their children and point at it. So, it’s definitely a conversation starter.”
While IEM was not created to bring in recurring revenue for its creators directly, Graham and co-producer Jennifer Tisdale came into the project with business experience in downtown Denver. They operate the Dance2B studios in lower downtown, and as such, had a keen sense of the challenges and pitfalls that can come with a new business launch.
That gap in knowledge is one of the key areas for improvement in round two of the Popup Program, representatives with the Downtown Denver Partnership said.
Two different tracks will be offered: an “Explorer Track” for established entrepreneurs ready to expand their physical store presence and a “Maker Track” for beginning entrepreneurs who want more exposure for their products without having to run their own physical shop.
“We have found through our pilot stage that some of those retail entrepreneurs are not quite ready to operate a storefront,” said Sarah Wiebenson, DDP director of economic development. “Those Maker Track folks can apply to be a part of our retail collective, where up to 30 makers will have their products featured in a downtown store in the collective sponsored by Wells Fargo. And then those experienced retail entrepreneurs in the region can apply to be on the Explore Track. They will be given their own storefront to operate. They will have another storefront in Colorado and lots of experience with how to juggle the complexities of operating a storefront.
“We’re going to be running [business owners] through a series of workshops with city agencies and our vendor partners to talk about what it takes to operate a storefront downtown. We'll be going through city permitting processes, sign code considerations, things they may not have experienced in their other downtowns that they're operating in. But we'll also run them through a safety and security assessment and even provide funding to do mitigations, crime prevention through environmental design,” Wiebenson continued.
According to the DDP, the return of traffic to downtown Denver has been a mixed a bag. Weekend visitors have reached 95% of pre-pandemic levels, according to DDP, and restaurant dining is actually ahead of 2019 levels. During the work week, however, foot traffic is still slightly over half of what it was before COVID-19, a trend that has been seen in cities across the country.
Safety and security downtown is another main concern that has been raised by both business owners and residents. In November 2022, DDP and the City of Denver announced a public safety initiative with 40 partner organizations to address safety concerns downtown. The plan includes a heavier police presence, as well as mental health experts and substance abuse navigators to connect individuals with services.
Both the DDP and the producers of Image En Mouvement said the presence of the Popups themselves play a key role.
“It cleans up the sides of the streets, because now people have respect for what the city represents,” Graham said.
“And we saw that with our installation, so as soon as the music started playing, videos went up, and the art went up... homeless people did not hang out there,” co-producer Jennifer Tisdale added. “Just showing that we respect our space, others will tend to respect it.”
Applications for round two of Popup Denver will be accepted through Friday March 3. You can learn more about the program and the application process on the Popup Denver website.