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Final Four presents opportunity for pop-up entrepreneurs

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Felicia Perry helps ready one of the Chameleon Consortium pop-up shops.
Felicia Perry, the business resource coordinator for the West Broadway Business and Area Coalition, helps ready one of the pop-up shops Thursday. Many north Minneapolis businesses will be featured in the shops over the next week.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis is the epicenter of fan festivities for the 2019 NCAA Final Four this weekend — something 50 small business owners are taking advantage of to show off their work during one of the busiest weekends of the year.

"This means a lot of foot traffic for us," said Umar Ahmed, who'll be selling his Twiggy Fresh's bamboo toothbrushes in a temporary pop-up shop in the Gavidae Common building on Sixth Street and Nicollet Avenue. His product is modeled after a "miswak," the type of natural toothbrush he used growing up in Somalia.

He hopes this weekend's crowds can give his business more exposure than he has had in the two years he has been selling online. The 2018 Super Bowl Host Committee in Minnesota reported more than a million people visited the Nicollet Mall area for fan festivities over several days leading up to that big game.

"There are a lot of different businesses in Minnesota," Ahmed said. "There are a lot of entrepreneurs out there from different backgrounds and to be here to represent those backgrounds means a lot to us."

De'Vonna Pittman arranges her homemade organic beauty products
De'Vonna Pittman arranges her homemade organic beauty products, "Nature's Syrup," before the opening of her Chameleon Shoppes in a space just off Nicollet Mall on Thursday. Pittman's shop will be set up "like a north-side barber shop."
Evan Frost | MPR News

The Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District calls these pop-ups "Chameleon Shoppes."

The district director Steve Cramer said it serves as a new model for vacant space inside buildings. He has been pitching it to several downtown landlords.

"We say, 'Look, you have vacant space and we've got an idea for how to fill that space and really activate your building,'" Cramer said. "They will receive compensation but it won't be standard commercial rent. It will be a percentage of the sales that are achieved."

Clothing, jewelry and accessories made in Nigeria and sold by TiAngy Design
Clothing, jewelry and accessories made in Nigeria and sold by TiAngy Designs sit for sale in one of Chameleon Shoppes' pop-up stores off of Nicollet Mall on Thursday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Cramer said the idea for pop-up shops came about after some major retail anchors like the downtown Macy's closed in recent years.

Temporary pop-up shops have existed for decades with mostly seasonal and holiday themes, said Hye-Young Kim, director of the retail merchandising program at the University of Minnesota. Now, Kim says, online retailers often use them to limit the risk of owning a business.

Kim said they are also growing in popularity among shoppers.

"This unconventional retail concept appeals to today's extremely fickle, experience-seeking consumers, who demand more and more variety and novelty in the marketplace," she said.

Ten-year-old Savannah Fry helps clean a shelf.
Ten-year-old Savannah Fry helps clean a shelf inside one of the Chameleon Shoppes. Savannah's mother, Felicia Perry, is the business resource coordinator for the West Broadway Business and Area Coalition, one of the consortium's partners.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Cramer said while there won't be a Final Four or Super Bowl to boost traffic every weekend, the long-term plan is to work with more private landlords in hopes of keeping a rotating list of Chameleon Shoppes popping up downtown.

Ronnie Kennedy, who started her online retail business WeWannaRock about five months ago, is looking forward to the opportunity to showcase her clothing line for the next month.

She also welcomes the sense of community that the space on the first floor of Gavidae Common will bring. Her pop-up shop is situated next to several others belonging to women from north Minneapolis.

"I think it's amazing to be able to pop up with all these different women when we all come from the same place," Kennedy said.