Debbie Swartz off-handedly mentioned to a member of the Chamber of Commerce that she should sell her bagels somewhere because Grinnell has no other place to get them. A few months later, she is one of roughly twenty vendors who operate out of the Marketplace on Main at 913 Main St.
The Marketplace is a relatively new “experiment” according to Swartz, one that is proving to be at least somewhat successful. The co-op style shopping venue opened June 29 after seven retail establishments in downtown Grinnell closed due to the economic recession.
“Something like that is obviously very concerning to the Chamber, ” said Hollie Van Roekel, Membership and Marketing Coordinator for the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce.
Angela Harrington, Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce, is credited with developing the idea for the Marketplace and enlisting the help of local business owners.
“She calls it a launching pad for local businesses,” Van Roekel said.
The building of the Marketplace, owned by Dick Knapp and leased to the Chamber of Commerce, is subleased by the Commerce to the various vendors according to the square footage they request. The one cashier system of the store makes buying from multiple businesses simple, and can be supported by a lease agreement that requires each vendor to spend six hours a week running the store. Harrington, quoted in the original press release, said “… this flexible system allows moms, retirees, hobbyists,and other would-be retailers who are only able to make a part-time commitment to set up shop.”
The benefit of an establishment like the Marketplace on Main lies in the data it generates about local spending habits.
“It is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.,” said Van Roekel, “which is different from most other businesses in town.” The different hours were formulated to try to convince local businesses to adjust from their typical 9 a.m.-5 p.m. business model. “We’ve discovered that the most spending happens between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.”
The businesses are widely varied, and, as Van Roekel said, “some are more successful than others. Some vendors make up their lease payment in a single sale, while others have to use an entire month’s sales.”
Debbie Swartz, founder of Busy Bee’s Bagels, and Jo Mayer, founder of Scrap it Plus, are examples of business owners who seem to have found their niche in the Grinnell retail community.
Mayer has recently expanded her business space from 250 square feet to a substantially larger space in the Marketplace. Now, her membership-oriented scrap-booking, jewelry-making and card-crafting workshop is located in the basement of the Marketplace.
“We could never open a place like this on our own,” she said. “The Chamber of Commerce gives us a chance to try out the idea.”
Some other retailers include Messy Missy’s, a paint-your-own ceramics craft center; The Utility Shop, a great place for all your yarn needs; The Mixing Studio, which allows you to mix and name your own ice cream creations; and Dirty Gertie’s Goat Milk Soaps, a nifty name for a farmer’s market favorite. There are far too many retailers to list here, but the Marketplace is just a few blocks off campus and offers fun and food seven days a week.