Several prospective small business owners will soon have a low-risk opportunity to test out their concept in the heart of College Hill’s business district thanks to expansion of a longstanding neighborhood program.
College Hill Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation is set to launch the third round of its OurShop College Hill Program this November. Since 1975, the nonprofit community development corporation has worked with residents, neighborhood associations, business owners and strategic partners to revitalize the Hamilton Avenue Business District.
The initiative provides a complimentary storefront on Hamilton Avenue to a group of businesses to share for six months. Each participating business gets to operate their dedicated space like it’s their own brick-and-mortar site; they design the layout and decorate it, with the help of College Hill CURC.
College Hill CURC extended the application period to Thursday, Sept. 12.
Past participants have offered services ranging from toys and customized educational resources for parents and teachers to unique party supplies and a vegan bakery.
Beyond free rent, the founders receive small business support services – financial education, mentorship, marketing and storefront activation support, etc. They also get help with data analysis of sales trends to empower them to make decisions about things like pricing, promotions and even hours of operation.
Kate Greene, CEO of College Hill CURC, described the program as a low-risk opportunity for the business owners to test out their respective concepts and fine tune them before moving on to open a storefront of their own.
“College Hill has a strong, inclusive business community and we are excited to welcome even more entrepreneurs working to achieve their dream,” she added.
Bringing new business, energy to College Hill
Greene expects the OurShop selection committee to pick three to four businesses to take part in this year’s program.
The first round in 2021 featured five businesses:
- Set the Vibez party store owned by Erika Standifer
- DeeDee’s Butter, a natural skincare brand owned by DeAngela Gill
- A CBD product shop called LAMA Herbal Solutions owned by Maria Walkup and Laura McCarthy
- Launch Party beauty shop owned by Brittany Cochran
- Like Mom’s Only Vegan bakery owned by Naomi Sams
The three businesses currently taking part in the program brought one-of-a-kind experiences to College Hill, Greene said.
One of those concepts is In Fly We Trust, a line of self-development coloring books operated by Brandon Hill. Brent Hodge’s Learning Curve provides toy-like resources geared toward engaging children and supporting their education.
Pour Candle Co. is a luxury line of candles and home fragrance products inspired by all things wine and cocktails.
College Hill CURC decided to hold the grand opening for the Round 3 businesses in late fall to allow the new cohort and the current one a chance to benefit from holiday shopping.
“I couldn’t have been happier with the OurShop program experience,” said Zonieke Alston-Betts, owner of Pour. “I haven’t had this much fun in a long time. This is just what I needed to feel even more confident in my brand.”
To help support the OurShop program, College Hill CURC receives funding from the city of Cincinnati through its Department of Economic Development. So far, the city has given College Hill CURC has about $80,000 in general fund dollars over the past two years for operational costs related to the initiative, according to DCED spokesperson Kate Luebkeman.
Luebkeman referred to the OurShop program as a partnership with College Hill CURC. It’s also a sign of commitment from the city to residents of College Hill and its 51 other neighborhoods, she said.
“As our city continues to grow, it’s more critical than ever that we invest in programming focused on strengthening and nurturing our neighborhood business districts, and local and small business owners,” Luebkeman added. “They are the heart of our communities.”
Finding the right fits for the neighborhood
Greene didn’t go into how many applications her organization has received so far, but she described interest as “high.” More than 80 businesses applied for the last round.
College Hill CURC will use a scoring rubric to limit subjectivity in the selection process. It considers past sales, participation in events like art fairs and flea markets, online presence and even branding.
A major factor, Greene said, is understanding how ready a business is to take the next stop into storefront operations.
It’s not just about the business itself, though, Green said. It’s also about finding businesses that align with the desires and needs of the College Hill community.
Current OurShop businesses, Learning Curve and Pour, are more family-oriented, which is something our community has been asking for, Greene added.
Living in the neighborhood isn’t a requirement, but she said her organization does ask how applicants plan to engage with residents and other businesses.
“College Hill’s entrepreneurial spirit is flourishing, and we can’t wait to witness the positive impact these new businesses will have on our community,” Greene said.