Local entrepreneurship accelerator Mortar
wants you to do your holiday shopping as locally as possible in order to support Cincinnati startups and entrepreneurs. In fact, the organization will help by providing a formidable pop-up space in Walnut Hills where you’ll be able to shop a variety of local vendors, entrepreneurs and even artists.
The pop-up space, Brick 939
(named for its location at 939 E. McMillan St.), will open on Black Friday, exactly one year after Mortar debuted its original pop-up space, Brick OTR
, in Over-the-Rhine. But the new Brick will be on a new scale.
“Brick 939 is the Incredible Hulk-sized version of our pop-up shop in OTR,” says Mortar co-founder Allen Woods, referencing the fact that while the original Brick OTR is approximately 400 square feet of space, Brick 939 will be 10,000 square feet. The additional space will provide plenty of room for a variety of Cincinnati artisans and entrepreneurs to show their wares to holiday shoppers as well as house an art gallery for both visual arts and media in a screening room.
For Woods and Mortar, the extension into an art gallery makes perfect sense.
“Artists are entrepreneurs,” he says, pointing out that artists, just like all the other entrepreneurs Mortar works with, are trying to express themselves and realize their ideas in order to make a living. Since the purpose of Mortar’s pop-up shop is to provide an accessible way for businesses to do real-life trial runs very early in their startup process, providing space for artists was a natural next step.
939 McMillan seemed like the perfect space for all of those opportunities, but it took a lot of work to get the space ready. Over the past 14 weeks, Mortar has removed more than seven dumpsters’ worth of old merchandise and debris from the former Dollar City store in the process of preparing the building.
“It was a task to have the vision to see what it could become,” Woods says. “When we walked into this space, it completely pulled me in. … Now it has become exactly what we wanted it to be.”
Woods sees the transformation of the Brick 939 space as an apt metaphor for the changes that Mortar leads entrepreneurs through in its nine-week accelerator class, taking their idea from a rough vision to a fully fleshed-out concept and often a realized business. Mortar is now well into its third such class, which is its first one taking place in Walnut Hills.
The accelerator, which got its start in Over-the-Rhine a year ago, expanded into Walnut Hills this summer and will now alternate class sessions between the two neighborhoods. More than half the members of the current class are Walnut Hills residents or entrepreneurs looking to be active in the neighborhood.
“For me, we’ve always wanted to be as engaged in the community as possible,” Woods says. “We want to make sure we’re in all the places people need us.”
For Mortar’s Walnut Hills expansion, this means focusing on its mission of helping “the residents who aren’t typically included” in the process of redeveloping neighborhoods. The founders have worked closely with Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation
on their expansion into the neighborhood, including hosting community forums to solicit input on their programs.
“We were able to ask, ‘What would you like to see, what is missing in your neighborhood?’” Woods says. “They might have a genius idea none of us have thought of.”
In addition to gathering ideas, Woods says those kind of conversations help give longtime residents a sense of pride and ownership over the changes in the area. When Walnut Hills was a flourishing business district several decades ago, it was also a primarily African-American neighborhood. As it goes through this period of rebirth, Woods says, “We want to get entrepreneurs to be at the forefront of that flourishing.”
Entrepreneurs and artists who want to flourish at Brick 939 this holiday season can apply at Brick939.com
. There are a limited number of pop-up concepts that will be accepted in the space.