In order to support its more than 300 home-based businesses and promote a vibrant downtown, Auburn (pop. 7,524) recently embraced the concept of micro retailing. In April 2017, the city opened nine Whistlestop Shops in a park adjacent to City Hall and thus provided small, independent, and family-owned businesses with a storefront in a visible location.
How does the program work?
Scene from Whistlestop Shops opening event.
The shops consist of 8’ x 12’ wooden detached buildings whose design evokes Auburn’s history as a railroad town. They can be rented by vendors for $200 per month for up to one year. The program is administered by Auburn’s Downtown Development Authority, which received over 50 applications for shops and selected unique businesses from crafts to coffee that provide the best mixture to fit the community. In the long run, the city anticipates that some Whistlestop retailers will seek permanent locations in the city’s downtown, but there are also plans to build more shops as more funding becomes available.
What are the costs and benefits?
The total upfront cost of the Whistlestop Shop development was $340,000 using SPLOST and DDA contributions. This investment includes shop design, signage, water, sewer, power, Wi-Fi, HVAC, and landscaping. In addition to being a business incubator, the project provides a destination to enjoy a pedestrian-friendly shopping experience as well as connectivity to other downtown amenities such as the museum, community garden, library, the children’s park, and the bike trailhead plaza. Newly formed partnerships are an additional benefit: the vendors become invested in the success of downtown Auburn and are encouraged to suggest new ideas, such as a 5k run or an outdoor yoga class, to foster a stronger sense of community.
For more information, please contact Alex Mitchem
, Community Development Director, Auburn