College Hill CURC opens call for entrepreneurs to try their hand at OurShop

The world is full of good ideas that never get beyond “idea” stage. The overheard required to launch a new business endeavor is often a deal-breaker for new, young, or under-resourced entrepreneurs.

Enter the pop-up shop--a low-cost, low-commitment opportunity to launch a good idea into the marketplace via a temporary brick and mortar store.

The College Hill Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation has opened a call for entrepreneurs to apply for the second round of their small business launchpad OurShop, which includes six-months rent free in a storefront along College Hill’s Hamilton Avenue and other business support.
Don’t hesitate!
The deadline to apply
is January 25th.

College Hill CURC says that OurShop is a “once in a lifetime opportunity for entrepreneurs in our community to test their own storefront.”

Development comes to Hamilton Avenue

The College Hill neighborhood sits about 8 miles north of downtown, at the northwestern border of the City of Cincinnati. The neighborhood has an attractive number of parks and greenspace, diverse housing opportunities, and a walkable business district along Hamilton Avenue that, as any regular visitor could affirm, is experiencing a cultural and economic renaissance.

The College Hill Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation (College Hill CURC) is the primary mover behind a lot of the development along this major business corridor.

Established in 1975, College Hill CURC is a nonprofit development corporation. CEO Kate Greene says the goal of the organization is “to bring to fruition the aspirations of the community,” with specific attention on the business district.
College Hill CURC CEO, Kate Green
“The story of College Hill is like many business districts in urban areas, where it went into decline in the early 2000’s,” she explains. “We’ve been fighting back from that decline.”

The redevelopment corporation engages in a variety of projects around Hamilton Avenue, concentrating in four areas: Affordable Housing, Economic Development, Small Business Support, and Community Engagement.

Greene says part of their job is “to bring back the buildings that have been vacant for ten or fifteen years and bring them back into production, to support the small businesses that have been open this entire time, to create density throughout the business district, and to create housing.”

OurShop comes to Hamilton Avenue

The OurShop project started a couple years ago as a creative solution for activating a few blighted spaces along Hamilton Avenue, while also spurring greater economic development in the neighborhood.

“At the time, we had two buildings that were vacant, kind of run down, like ‘missing teeth’ of the business district,” Greene remembers. They presented an opportunity for economic growth.

“One of our key program areas is small business support,” explains Ismael Hassan, Community Development Manager at College Hill CURC.

“So, this fits right into that… and it also activates storefronts in the business district.”

Ismael Hassan, Community Development Manager at College Hill CURCHassan works in community engagement and manages beautification and streetscape projects. He also manages the OurShop project. The program launched in August 2021, and he says there were 52 applicants for their pilot cohort.

All the applications were submitted to a scoring process, College Hill CURC held interviews, and then they hosted an open house so applicants could see the available spaces. Five applicants were finally chosen for round one of OurShop. All five are women-owned businesses.

The launch of OurShop was a partnership with YARD & Company and was funded, in part, by a grant from the Haile Foundation. Some of the funding for the pilot was used to renovate the two storefronts to make them ready for tenants; the rest went to program costs.

Hassan says that the businesses were each given six months’ rent-free shop space. They were also provided data analytics, free publicity, and mentorship and training.

All five of the first-round participants had great success. They have all “graduated” into their own storefronts in College Hill or elsewhere.

Are you ready for OurShop?

OurShop participants do not need to live in College Hill, though a connection to the community could be helpful during the application process. There is a score rubric to limit subjectivity and Greene says that what matters most is whether or not the business is ready for this next step and how well its services align with the needs and desires of the College Hill community.

She says, “[We ask,] Have they done vendor fairs? Have they done festivals? Do they have an online presence? Are they building an audience? Do they have a brand?”

What kind of business works best in OurShop? The program has broad parameters. Last year’s tenants included a body butter bar, a vegan cookie shop, and a party décor store.

Greene says College Hill CURC would like to introduce more shopping opportunities to College Hill. The neighborhood already has a lot of restaurants and bars, but not a lot of daytime retail. The community has also requested more family-oriented amenities and, as always, a grocery store. (College Hill’s full-service grocery store closed in 2002.)

Having “site control” of the business district helps College Hill CURC, on behalf of the community, curate what new things are introduced to the neighborhood.

“We’re very careful that what we bring in is something that’s a compliment to what’s existing and not create unnecessary competition,” she explains. They don’t want to “cannibalize” existing businesses.

The redevelopment corporation has found a lot of community support in these endeavors.

“Our community has raised over $6M for our work over the past several years,” Greene says. “That’s huge and shows that the community has really bought into the vision and the work that we’re doing.”

Ready to apply?

Business owners who are ready to take their shot at OurShop are encouraged to apply. The application is found here.

Have you missed the deadline? Don’t worry! OurShop’s pilot was so successful that The City of Cincinnati is providing funding for this Winter 2023 cohort, as well as two future rounds. Interested entrepreneurs can watch for the next application this coming Fall.
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Liz McEwan is a proud wife, mama, urbanite, musician and blogger. Follow her at The Walking Green and on twitter at @thewalkinggreen.