In the garden: Coatesville agency creating opportunities for new entrepreneurs10/25/2023 09:29AM ● By Richard Gaw
There are at present one half dozen small businesses tucked side-by-side in what used to be an Army-Navy story on 228 Main Street in Coatesville, and in many respects, these small shops form a community garden of hope and dreams, arranged in harmony with a local agency who wants these individual businesses to grow, root by root.
First initiated last November, the Coatesville 2nd Century Alliance has established Made in Coatesville, by converting a portion of their new offices into an incubator program for small businesses that opens the door of opportunity to new business owners to market their goods and services under the tutelage and support of the agency.
The initiative takes its incentive from the five primary goals of the 2nd Century Alliance, which was established in 2015: to advance major catalytic development projects; to employ strategies to bring jobs and economic opportunity to the city; to strengthen and stabilize neighborhoods; to revitalize the downtown commercial district; and to promote Coatesville’s attributes and advantages.
“One of the things that we have realized in our seven years as an agency is that we have a huge entrepreneurial spirit right here in the city,” said Amber Little-Turner, 2nd Century Alliance Downtown Manager. “Trying to figure out the best way to make sure that that local residents and business owners feel like they are part of these revitalization efforts was to provide an opportunity for them to start a business here.
“Ultimately, it is up the organization to make the decision on what entrepreneur will be given the opportunity to open a business at the incubator, but it’s also a collective conversation, because the entrepreneur wants to make their own decision as to whether this business model works for them or not.”
Looker Books, an independent bookstore and the first tenant in the incubator, held their grand opening in August.
“I am so excited to be a part of this program and to have a downtown location,” said Dana Looker, the shop’s proprietor. “The response from the community has exceeded my expectations.”
In addition to Looker Books, Made in Coatesville is comprised of nine other businesses: The Butter Pecan Café, Coset Babe, DLG Bookkeeping Services, Epiphany CPR, Stingy Brims Hat Company, Valley Crossing Digital and West Branch Herbs and tea.
While the marketplace is open to the public on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, each store owner has access to the Alliance’s co-shared workspace and conference room, as well as to the Alliance’s broad array of services. Kissed by Noelle, another incubator business, is soon to move to a new location in the downtown district.
When Michele Allen first established her Mimi’s Favorite Things in 2019 -- boutique shop that specializes in unique, high quality self-care products made by small, woman and/or minority businesses – she took the business everywhere, from farmer’s markets to her home and to the Midway Arts Building. When Made in Coatesville was launched, Allen saw it as an opportunity to put her entrepreneurial boots in the ground. She quickly found out that she was surrounded by a network of support – a communal sense of partnership.
“The first three years of Mimi’s was an exciting learning opportunity, but while we did see an early spike during the first phase of COVID-19, as the pandemic dragged on it became very challenging to justify continuing to have a space,” she said. “My husband and I began to realize that if 80 percent of the business was online sales, why did we need a large, dedicated space?”
Mimi’s Favorite Things officially opened on Small Business Saturday last November.
“When I came to the incubator and was surrounded by other retailers who were also trying to build their walk-in businesses, I found it to be such an uplifting environment, and for our customers, it has become a place where they can shop for many things, not just one thing,” Allen said.
In late September, Mimi’s Favorite Things became the first partner in the Made in Coatesville Small Business Incubator program to move from the marketplace to a new storefront. The retail boutique’s new location is just up the street at 262 East Lincoln Highway, which with help from her husband and business partner Courtney, Michele was able to purchase.
“My goal is to officially launch Mimi’s in downtown Coatesville as a staple representation of a permanent business,” she said. “We have plans for the remainder of the building. There is a beautiful courtyard that we’re considering using for public events, and there is a basement that has been used as a business location in the past.”
Made in Coatesville is just one of Coatesville’s several initiatives intended to kick-start a growing entrepreneurial spirit in the city. The Chester County Economic Development Council recently opened a Business Resource Center at 357 East Lincoln Highway, home to another incubator program known as the nth Innovation Center, and the City of Coatesville offers a Business Skills for Success program in partnership with Kutztown University’s Small Business Development Center.
“Our Made in Coatesville incubator program has already exceeded our expectations,” Little-Turner said. “We’ve already had success stories like Michele who have moved their store to another place in the downtown district. Our hope and desire is that we can continue to graduate people like Michele into whatever their desires are moving forward. For these businesses, their goal isn’t to necessarily to remain here forever, but each owner’s timeframe is different.”
“My hope is that we will not only will we continue to serve more retail entrepreneurs but ramp our ability to provide opportunities for other types of businesses.”
The Made in Coatesville Incubator program is located at 228 East Lincoln Highway in Coatesville. Its office hours are Thursdays and Fridays from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., and Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. To learn more about the program and to apply, visit www.madeincoatesville.com. To learn more about the 2nd Century Alliance, visit www.2ndCenturyAlliance.org.