ST. THOMAS — Property owners and retailers on Main Street in Charlotte Amalie all seem to agree, the revitalization of Main Street needed to be done. Owners and retailers also agree that because of the scope of the project and the time that Main Street has been torn apart, the cost is far more than just the money spent on construction.
Though progress has been made, many Main Street business owners are struggling to hang on or, like TOPA Properties, are trying new ideas to keep revenue flowing.
The western end of the street has been particularly hard hit. Besides closures, some long-term tenants that have been on the west end of Main Street for years have sought to move further east to what has long been perceived as the more desirable portion of the street.
“There’s been a lot of consolidation and obviously a lot of closures in the last few years,” said Steve Morton, president of TOPA Properties, which owns 10 properties in the historic district.
“It’s sad to see some of these long-term tenants that just haven’t been able to survive this combination of hurricanes, construction and the decline of tourism. It’s been a really long period for retailers downtown, no question about it. I think there are two doors open when you look west of Trompeter Gade and I actually counted 56 out of 69 doors that were closed. That’s staggering, unheard of for Main Street. It wasn’t long ago, 20 years ago, that every nook and cranny was full of retail. The decline has been dramatic and it’s alarming, so we’ve got to take bold steps to bring downtown back.”
To offset these kinds of losses, property owners have to think outside the box. TOPA has turned to an idea that’s been gaining a lot of popularity on the mainland: the pop-up store.
Retail property on Main Street has long been in high demand, but market conditions are vastly different right now, particularly west of Raadet’s Gade, according to Morton. The risk and cost of opening a new business may be more than most may be willing to gamble on.
“Given the current situation downtown with the construction and other factors, there’s a hesitancy to get into a long-term lease on Main Street,” he said. “There’s trepidation and fear that until things start to stabilize, it’s kind of risky, so a pop-up eliminates part of that risk. You can come in short-term and establish a pop-up store for anywhere from three to six months. You can test a concept, test a brand, build awareness of a product or move inventory, so it’s a short-term, low risk opportunity to be in a high traffic, visible area. It may be a really interesting way to revitalize Main Street.”
Pop-up stores are typically no frills, bare bones spaces with little to no build out required, which lowers the upfront cost of opening. The potential can be great. If the results are successful and both retailer and landlord agree, the short-term relationship could turn into a permanent one.
“These can be fun, too,” Morton says. “A lot of these pop-up stores are typically fun and hip and new and a little less formal. What I would love to see is sort of an arts district on Main Street that caters to the arts and art galleries. Food and beverage would be good, too. We as property owners have to think differently in terms of how to support that western section of town because it’s really fallen onto some pretty hard times. We’ve been approached by a number of younger Virgin Islanders who would love to be downtown. They love the historic charm. They love the high-concentration retail area with a lot of history and they want to be downtown, but until construction is done, people are a little hesitant to jump in with a long-term commitment, so a pop-up might be the answer.”
Those interested in a pop-up opportunity can call 340-774-8175 ext. 23.