To Sal Di Stefano, the economic development director of Gloucester, empty retail space is a bad omen.
“Vacant storefronts can lead to more vacant storefronts and ultimately, a dark Main Street, which is the last thing we want,” he said.
That’s why town officials in Gloucester recently directed $50,000 of grant money from the Rapid Recovery Plan Program — a COVID-era creation of the Baker administration — to new pop-up space downtown. Through December, a street-level showroom at 206 Main St. will house up to four businesses for monthslong stints. The 440-square-foot space sits below 30 units of low-income housing, completed last year, and beside a tall lobster mural.
Since Aug. 6 (and until mid-October), the storefront is home to Sadie Restivo’s custom apparel business, Beached Goods, and Wendy Lattof’s crafting side-hustle, Create & Escape.
A Danvers resident, Restivo called the pop-up “an unbeatable opportunity to open a brick-and-mortar space without all the risks.” She started Beached Goods last year to sell North Shore sweatshirts, 978 area-code hats, and “Beach People” bath mats online. And though business has grown, partly by marketing products on her Instagram, a physical space felt financially out of reach, Restivo said — until now.
The city grant money covers most of the pop-up costs by paying for furniture and signage, and officials are offering businesses subsidized rent of $500, including utilities and Wi-Fi. The balance of the rent is covered by the grant.
“Businesses aren’t just handed a key and told good luck,” Di Stefano said.
Ideally, the program will help entrepreneurs build a customer base in Gloucester and stick around for the long term, even when the subsidy disappears, said Mayor Greg Verga. “We want this to become a place where they can envision staying, growing, and being part of the community.”
Those sweeteners are part of what drew Lattof to the project. The Gloucester native has run a crafting business with her sister, Debbie Thibodeau, for five years — first at “mobile” events at restaurants and then in a Peabody storefront that opened in 2018. The company thrived during the COVID-19 pandemic, Lattof said. Organizations, including Wounded Warriors and Salem State University, began contacting her for virtual events and bulk orders. Throngs of people sought refuge in paints, do-it-yourself kits, and holiday-themed artwork.
The Gloucester pop-up is yet another way for Latoff to expand Create & Escape’s reach.
In many ways, the job is also a salve for her, as she continues to work full-time in finance.
“As much as I love spreadsheets and analysis, I need the creative side,” she said. “If I ever get stressed, I get some paint and a canvas, and I just let go.”
Just weeks in, town officials hope the pop-up program will help Gloucester climb out of the grips of COVID and see a full recovery, unlike in downtown Boston, where tourism and foot traffic remains below 2019 levels. Two dozen businesses applied for the pop-up, signaling interest, Verga said.
“This is more or less a pilot program,” he added. “If we can get some additional funding, we’d like to keep it going.”
206 Main St., Gloucester www.project-pop-up.com, open weekdays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Newbury Street gets another gemstone giant
The designer end of Newbury Street bordering the Boston Public Garden will soon see a new addition: a 4,600-square-foot location of Long’s Jewelers.
The Boston brand is debuting a two-story storefront, protected by a towering glass facade, at 7 Newbury St. by late 2022. Its first floor will be dedicated exclusively to Patek Philippe, the Swiss watchmaker founded in 1839, and the second floor will feature engagement rings, diamond earrings, and pendants from Long’s.
President Craig Rottenberg said a location on “Luxury Row” is fitting for the jewelry store, which already operates five Massachusetts locations, including one in the Financial District and a separate Newbury Street Rolex boutique.
And he brushes aside the notion that the pandemic changed shopping habits for good. Browsing in elegant shops, Rottenburg adds, is here to stay.
“Jewelry and watches are an art,” he said. “We believe you have to touch it, feel it, experience it. It’s very hard online to show the color of the gemstone, the feel of the gold, and so we’re big believers in this staying an in-person business.”
7 Newbury St., Boston www.longsjewelers.com
A collectibles store, reimagined
Inside the Foxwoods Resort and Casino, the nightlife mavens behind Big Night Live opened a second location of CardVault, a reimagined collectibles shop, in mid-August.
It sells a range of cards and memorabilia — from baseball and football to racing and UFC — in a sleek 1,000-square-foot storefront. Forget the stereotypical corner card store, managing partner Chris Costa said. “Instead, CardVault is designed to be high-end, ultra-modern retail experience in an industry that usually feels dusty and cluttered.”
The idea grew out of Costa’s relationship with Big Night co-owner Randy Greenstein. The pair was chatting on Nantucket in the early days of COVID, when venues were hampered by the lockdown and capacity restrictions.
“My collection had taken an explosive turn during the pandemic,” Costa said. The conversation “went from me educating [Greenstein] on cards, to us building a business together.”
Today, CardVault caters to amateur collectors and big buyers alike, at Patriot Place in Foxborough and at Foxwoods. Some cards in the “card bar” sell for under $20. Others, like the $265,000 PSA4 1952 Mickey Mantle card, go for six-figures.
It should simulate the experience of a jewelry or watch store, Costa said, “but one that is accessible to every kind of collector.”
350 Trolley Line Blvd., Ledyard, CT, www.cardvault.com, open Monday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Diti Kohli can be reached at email@example.com.Follow her on Twitter @ditikohli_.