Is this the future of the retail industry in Akron?
A local developer’s new journey into the retail industry may be the solution to creating a thriving space for small businesses.
If you’re from Akron, the image of the retail industry may be connected with the empty and abandoned Rolling Acres Mall or the loss of two major anchors of Chapel Hill Mall.
The images have shaken the retail industry. But local developer Joel Testa may have the answer to growing retail space in a city that has witnessed first-hand how the retail climate has changed.
“This is our take, essentially, on the urban mall,” Testa said.
The idea of Northside Marketplace was crafted by Testa, president of Testa Companies, and his wife Cassie. With support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Downtown Akron Partnership, the concept of the 10,000-square-foot small business incubator was created to give local startups a chance to thrive in the evolving retail industry.
About 40 entrepreneurs are under one roof inside a space connected to Testa’s Northside Lofts, each with varying opportunities to capture the attention of new customers.
“We set it up in the retail mall mentality of big-box anchors, in our case we have three established businesses that are the draw into the marketplace,” said Testa. “Inside the marketplace is a lot of small startup companies, mostly people working out of their homes, looking for their first step into brick-and-mortars.”
So that means entrepreneurs can rent space – or even shelves – inside the building. A small setup on a shelf could be as low $35 a month for rent.
“We’ve often had this false choice of or vibrant downtown, it’s both,” said Kyle Kutuchief, Akron program director for the Knight Foundation. “Cleveland is proving it’s both and Columbus is proving its both, so like [Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan] says, ‘Why not Akron?’”