For most of February, 55 Church St. housed a uniform clothing store. But starting this week, it will stand as a studio for makeup artist Evelyn Massey, thanks to the New Haven organization Project Storefronts.
Project Storefronts, an organization run through the New Haven Department of Arts, Culture and Tourism, provides startups or struggling businesses access to empty retail spaces. Through the Project Storefronts setup, landlords donate the space or work out a rental agreement, and then Project Storefronts provides financial assistance to the entrepreneurs. The Church Street space is called PopUp 55.
City Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson SOM ’81 said Project Storefronts has been an asset to New Haven by helping solidify a retail district downtown.
“The whole point of a retail district is to have continuity of storefronts,” Nemerson said. “They marry up the empty space and undercapitalized retailers.”
Cherubs Uniforms was the most recent business to use the space at 55 Church St., which changes businesses every two to four weeks. The store temporarily moved to New Haven after construction obstructed the entrance to its Milford location.
Elinor Slomba, project manager at Project Storefronts, said the organization currently hosts five New Haven businesses, including a site in East Rock and another site downtown on Court Street. She said the organization works with a wide variety of businesses, but, to qualify for Project Storefronts, they must have a “creative vision” and a desire to keep New Haven residents as their central customer base.
“We seed walkable commercial districts and bring cultural energy to the forefront of street-level economic development plans,” said Slomba.
At 118 Court St. in downtown New Haven, Project Storefronts is preparing to feature an extended pop-up showcase for a furniture company called Reworx. Additionally, at 138 Haven St. in the Mill River District, Slomba said the site is preparing to launch Connecticut’s first “creative reuse center” through Ecoworks. This recycling company — which removes items from waste streams of companies and then sells them to educators, makers and artists as low-cost supplies — is currently stationed inside of Boldwood Interiors, a bar top manufacturing studio.
Slomba added that Project Storefronts has played a crucial role in spurring business downtown thanks to the program model, which activates space that is underutilized, such as the West Lobby of Union Station, where they now hold indoor street fairs.
“Historically, we helped the Ninth Square transform into the arts and innovation district we see today,” Slomba said. “The Grove, which started out through Project Storefronts, has been a breakthrough success and source of inspiration and practical help for many startups in the city.”
Melaka Ehigiato, co-owner of Inspired Turkey — a catering business focusing on pressure-fried turkeys — has worked on events with Project Storefronts and said she thinks the organization benefits New Haven businesses by giving them more than just financial support.
Ehigiato’s business works with Project Storefronts to hold open mic nights every Thursday and to rent out its kitchen to local chefs and bakers.
“I think that they’re a great resource,” Ehigiato said. “They give people ideas about how to market their business, and if you have an idea or dream or business concept, they give you financial backing.”