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Downtown incubator heats up
Business plan behind schedule, moving forward
business incubator pic
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It’s been a successful first year for the Turlock Downtown Property Owners Association business incubator – full of new businesses getting their starts in downtown Turlock – even if things haven’t moved as quickly as originally planned.

“We're very pleased with the progress,” said TDPOA Executive Director Trina Walley. “We're a little slower than we first projected, but things are still going well.”

While initial plans called for all space to be rented out within a year, the incubator is only just above half full currently. But with downtown at a roughly 20 percent vacancy rate in January, when the TDPOA performed a six-month evaluation of the incubator, the rental rate seems reasonable, Walley said.

“We thought it's not very realistic of us to expect to be 100 percent full when downtown is not 100 percent full,” Walley said.

After that January study, the TDPOA realigned rents to make the incubator sustainable at an 80 percent occupancy rate. The incubator is rapidly closing in on that goal, with just five of 15 spaces – all office space – remaining vacant.

For Susana Love, owner of Eclectic Charm, the incubator has been a perfect opportunity. The retailer offers tie-dyed apparel, chainmail, jewelry, and purses in her shop, and has received a good reception from the community.

“It’s worked really well for me,” Love said.

In just a few months, Eclectic Charm has more than quadrupled its wares, growing from three to 13 venders represented in the shop. The store just recently kicked off a Friday Night Live event from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. every Friday, featuring music, fashion shows, and even poetry reading, drawing lines of shoppers in search of coffee and art trailing out the door in its first week.

Things have worked out so well, in fact, that Love is renting out a second retail space at the incubator to open a modern art gallery with 11 artists already onboard.

The relatively painless process of getting Eclectic Charm up and running took about two months, Love said, with roots in her husband’s chainmail art and the urging of local artists at a festival. Love had 20 years of experience in the banking industry, but after finding herself jobless in the down economy she opted to spread her love of art with Turlock’s downtown.

The incubator has aided Eclectic Charm, Love said, due to its all-inclusive nature. With just the cost of rent, everything else is included – including business development assistance and access to a copy machine – except for the cost of a phone line.

“I think more people need to know it’s available,” Love said.

The TDPOA has been fielding inquiries for the remaining five office spaces, but the open ceiling floor plan of the incubator – located at 300 W. Main St. – doesn’t lend itself to attorney or CPA offices, Walley said. An alterations business and a consulting firm are prospective tenants though, she said.

Other offices are currently held by the TDPOA, the Alliance Small Business Development Center, and Vacant Home Caretakers. Another office is a shared space, available for rent on an hourly basis, also known as a “virtual office.”                      

California State University, Stanislaus has a space as well, intended to increase the college’s presence in downtown and aide in collaborative efforts with the City of Turlock.

The final retail space has been rented to a bakery and cafe named Frost, due to open soon. Frost will also serve as a cake design studio, offering wedding cakes – a crucial part of the TDPOA strategy to brand Turlock’s downtown as a bridal shopping destination.

The plan had called for Turlock downtown to begin marketing itself as a hub for wedding shopping needs by January.

“We are a little behind of course,” Walley said. “When the plan was made in 2006-2007 we weren't in the economic condition we are now.”

The incubator was originally created as part of that bridal shopping strategy, to help bridal businesses open their doors in Turlock. With the addition of Frost, TDPOA just needs to recruit two wedding dress shops before downtown will reach the necessary mix of businesses to begin marketing the bridal shopping destination.

Despite the hiccups of the down economy, Walley said that downtown Turlock is beginning to grow once again, with a used book shop due to open in the coming weeks on the corner of Olive and Center.

The TDPOA Economic Reconstruction Committee is also working with the City of Turlock to update the Downtown Master Plan and zoning overlay, hopefully helping to make downtown Turlock more business friendly. The work, due in the next six months, will make it easier for restaurants to open up downtown, Walley said, giving all those blushing brides a place to eat when they come to shop.

“We're working as hard as we can to get the pieces in place so when the economy does start to pick up in a year or two we'll be able to move forward with everything,” Walley said.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.