Downtown Battle Creek shows support for future retailers
New program will subsidize rent while businesses get up and running.
Retail entrepreneurs and business owners looking to set up shop in downtown Battle Creek may be eligible for financial support with a new acceleration program.
Battle Creek Downtown Partnership, an affiliate of Battle Creek Unlimited, this month launched a new Retail Acceleration Program to foster retail development in the area and support new business owners.
Rob Peterson, downtown development director of Battle Creek Downtown Partnership, said the program hopefully will create an engaging downtown experience through the growth of retail businesses.
“The essence of the program is to fill the storefronts with well-thought-out retail concepts. We define retail as a business where at least half of their floor space is used for sale of goods on the premises,” said Peterson. “We are really hoping to end up with more of those stores that provide the type of goods that you can’t find elsewhere.”
The Retail Acceleration Program will provide rental support for new retail business owners upon applying with the Downtown Partnership committee and meeting several training and mentoring requirements. Based on a schedule, a new retailer will receive financial support — up to half of the rental cost for the first six months in the acceleration program. After that initial period, subsidies are decreased over two more six-month periods.
“The idea is, we want people to build up cash flow early, if at all possible. We are subsidizing their rent to the tune of half the rent for the first six months,” said Peterson. “It eases them into the market rate rent.”
In exchange for financial support, retail owners are required to maintain specific hours, work with an existing downtown business owner to help navigate initial operation in the Battle Creek area, and complete an extensive business plan with support from the Small Business Development Center, according to a press release.
Kara Beer, president of the Battle Creek Area Chamber of Commerce, said running a small business requires skills in various operation-related fields, and a top-notch education program can be achieved using resources in the area.
“A small business owner has to be good at a lot of things and they will need an education in many aspects of business operations,” said Beer. “There are plenty of talented people willing to share their knowledge.”
The Battle Creek Downtown Partnership is collaborating with the chamber to develop ongoing training opportunities for retailers who are accepted into the program.
The partnership developed the acceleration program with the assistance of several downtown retailers and committee members as a way to tailor the structure to the community. With the first deadline approaching in August, Peterson said the greatest challenge based on initial response is having enough retail-ready space available for entrepreneurs and small business owners.
“We are working with some properties that we own to try and market those to developers so we will have retail-ready space,” said Peterson. “I have currently two spaces I could realistically put people into today, and I have five people right now who are talking to me about applying for the first deadline. The biggest challenge is, where am I going to put these people if even half of them open up a retail store?”
Battle Creek’s Downtown Partnership is an initiative of Battle Creek Unlimited, a nonprofit organization at 4950 W. Dickman Road that promotes human, economic and community development in the area to facilitate regional wealth. The partnership strives to establish the Battle Creek downtown area as a vibrant urban center for residents and visitors to live, work, play and invest.
“Retail is a barometer of a downtown’s health. When people come down here, they want to see stores they can walk into, where they can be a part of it,” said Peterson.