Thomasville Uses the Arts to Create Economic Growth

More than 30 murals were displayed throughout downtown Thomasville to help bring attention to the new Creative District as a place for shopping, dining, and entertaining. Photo contributed.

From Pop-Ups to Storefront: Thomasville Uses the Arts to Create Economic Growth

The pop-up trend seems to be abuzz in communities across the country. Often these seemingly unknown businesses appear suddenly, operate for a couple of days or sometimes for weeks, and then disappear. If done correctly, the pop-up experience can serve as a launching pad for a successful long-term business venture.

Entrepreneurs can test the market before making an extended lease commitment or use space in a high traffic area to showcase a new product or service.

In downtown Thomasville, the pop-up concept was used to jump-start several new businesses and encourage economic revitalization within the city’s Creative District.

In an area known as “The Bottom,” a formerly struggling area of the downtown since segregation in the 1970s, the Creative District was established to attract businesses and enhance the arts. This initiative began to connect the formerly declining streets to the other thriving shopping and dining blocks of downtown.

In 2014, as the city’s amphitheater was in the development stage, the Thomasville Center for the Arts (TCA) hosted FLAUNT: Pop It Up. The purpose of the public art exhibit centered on creating an awareness of the Creative District as a place for shopping, dining, and entertainment.

“We worked with property owners to get the abandoned spaces cleaned up and ready for businesses to move in,” said Michele Arwood, executive director of TCA. “In many cases, the spaces had been abandoned for a very long time.”

Arwood said there were approximately 20 pop-ups as part of the FLAUNT exhibit, some stayed several months before moving to another location, and many remained in the downtown area.

“The strategy was to get businesses in those spaces and then attract future tenants,” Arwood said. “It was also a way to revive the buildings so that other people who were looking for space could imagine themselves there. It wasn’t just about the businesses that went in there the first time, it was so visionary entrepreneurs could say, ‘I can definitely see my business here.’ Before, this was not an area that people were looking to open a business, but that is not the case today.”

Creative Pop-Ups

Emily McKenna opened You’re Maker during the early stages of the Creative District’s development. As part of the district’s plan to attract businesses that have a “maker’s vibe,” You’re Maker is a perfect fit.

Described as a place to “make stuff,” the You’re Maker studio gives adults and children the opportunity to cultivate their creative side.

“I grew up in a house where we made things,” McKenna said. “My mom sewed and did needlework, and my dad was busy with metal and woodworking.”

What was once her hobby has become a full-time job.

“I used to go buy material and craft supplies and just go home and create something,” McKenna said. “Now I get to do what I love to do, and I have a business doing it.”

McKenna not only offers a wide range of classes from crafts to sewing and painting; she also provides pop-up space for local artists.

You’re Maker is not only giving children and adults the opportunity to unleash their creative side, but also provides a taste of being an entrepreneur.

“I have local artists who don’t have a storefront that come and showcase their work,” McKenna said. “Even the children want to sell the jewelry or purses they have made.”

Sara Simmons, the owner of Wildflower Interiors, started as a pop-up business within You’re Maker earlier this summer.

“I started online, but I always dreamed of a brick and mortar shop,” she said. “I have placed my online side on vacation mode so that I can concentrate on the shop.”

Simmons describes her Wildflower Interiors as “vintage home décor and accessories.”

Being able to start slow without the significant commitment of renting a lot of space, Simmons is able to grow with her business.

Thomasville Main Street Director April Norton said businesses, like You’re Maker, are bringing a new segment of people to the Creative District.

“You’re Maker is attracting young children and families downtown, breathing new life and creativity to the area,” said Norton. “They are sparking creative energy within these tiny entrepreneurs. The children are not only learning sewing and new craft skills, but also how to be business minded, they are paving the way for our future.”

It’s All About Location

With a unique selection of retail and restaurant options for children and adults, plus scheduled entertainment in The Ritz Amphitheater, which opened in spring 2017, the Creative District is now a popular extension of Thomasville’s downtown.

From the Fuzzy Goat, an eclectic and fun knitting shop, to Hugga Mugga’s, where you can pick up homemade treats for your fur babies, to a full service bike shop and tap room and dining options that include Paulie’s Brick Oven Pizza, Empire Bagel, and Delicatessen, and even rolled ice cream at Kreamkles, the Creative District is now a hopping location.

According to Norton, since 2014 the Creative District, known as The Bottom, has seen a net growth of 24 new businesses and 114 new jobs—with seven new businesses expected to open this year, creating an added 73 new job opportunities before the close of 2018.

Norton said the Creative District is a historically important area of Thomasville’s established downtown district. “Downtown is where our locals gather, it’s where we host events, and it continues to be the leading tourist attraction to Thomasville. Businesses are able to be successful and prosper because our downtown serves as an economic engine for the community.”

Norton works with prospective businesses to find the right location fit.

“It’s important to understand the vision of each business owner and it’s equally important to share with them the vision our community has so that they are given the greatest opportunity to thrive,” Norton said. “We are a ‘maker’ community and the Creative District has provided a platform to really allow the artistic visionaries of our area thrive. Anytime you can play a part as a customer in making a product or seeing the product being made in front of you, you tend to gain ownership over it. That’s what people want and I am thrilled to see activated spaces that allow that vision to become reality in downtown Thomasville.”


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