Whistlestop Shops Built to Inspire Entrepreneurship and Downtown Development

April 5, 2017

This article appeared in the April 2017 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.

According to the Georgia Depart­ment of Labor, there are 601,987 registered establishments in Georgia as of October 2016. Of those, 94.6 percent have fewer than 100 employ­ees—some being small, retail-based companies that are transitioning from giant superstores to smaller, demographically targeted ones that better focus on more specific prod­uct and client. This format is known as micro-retailing or micro-merchan­dising and has recently been adopted by the city of Auburn. The city’s new Whistlestop Shops, which are locat­ed next to Auburn City Hall, displays city officials’ and staffs’ intentions of encouraging their residents.
“We have passion for supporting entrepreneurs who are ready to take the next step,” said Auburn Commu­nity Development Director Alex Mitchem. “We un­derstand that to have a vibrant community, we need to support our more than 300 plus home-based busi­nesses and families.”
The Auburn Whistlestop Shops captured by a drone.
Thus far, the city has built nine, 8’x12’ detached re­tail shops. The power and water infrastructure neces­sary to support these units currently exists on site. The total cost of the Whistlestop Shop development was $340,000 funded by the city. This investment included shop design, signage, water, sewer, power, Wi-Fi and landscaping. The first phase of Whistlestop Shops was completed in fall 2016, and phase two will be revealed this month during a planned ribbon cutting ceremony.
There were more than 50 applications submitted to secure retail space in one of the shops—all ranging in product and experience. The application process was administered by the Auburn Downtown Development Authority, who also oversee shop tenants and overall operations. The authority was tasked with selecting a unique blend of retailers to best ac­commodate the city, Mitchem said.
Aside from providing small busi­nesses a prime, store front location to grow their dream business and display their products, the Whistle­stop Shops also encourage residents and visitors to explore other city amenities.
“The shops improve connectivity for pedestrians in the downtown area with access to the Community Garden and the Gateway Trail Head via a 10-foot wide plaza,” Mitchem said.
The Auburn community has been very supportive and impressed by this new micro-retailing space they can call their own.
“Initially, no one knew what the small structures were going to be and speculation ranged from rest­rooms to public housing,” Mitchem said. “But once we had a soft opening of the retail spaces at our ‘Sound­ing off the Season’ Christmas event the word spread that this development was unlike anything in North Georgia.”
Mitchem and his team look forward to the eco­nomic impact these shops will bring to Auburn and the improved quality of life for its residents. The city plans to rely heavily on the shop occupants to help accomplish these goals through input and engage­ment.

“Partnership is vital to success,” he said. “I’m happy to say our shop owners are part of the brainstorming in this venture by suggesting everything from a 5K to yoga classes on the square.”

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