Having vibrant town centres in rural areas is important, both for those who live in them and for those in the surrounding countryside. Not only can they encourage a strong sense of community, but they can also draw in visitors, helping the local economy. In recent years though, there has been an increased move towards shopping in large out-of-town complexes. Drawing business back to town centres could help restore the feel of market towns, helping to increase the number of local retailers and creating space for unique businesses.
There are a number of obstacles that prevent this shift from happening; many businesses find rents in towns are too high and find it hard to assess whether their new business ideas are viable, and this makes them unwilling to risk starting a new enterprise. Enns, in Austria, has developed a new approach to combatting these problems. By opening up a succession of pop-up shops, they have revitalised the town centre and allowed local entrepreneurs to test their concept.
The scheme works by offering two different options for prospective businesses, either they can apply for a very short lease, of only a few days, or a longer one of between 1-6 months. These two options encourage different kinds of start-ups. The first scheme creates diversity in the town centres. This diversity gives the town an event-like feel, helping to create consumer interest and encourage footfall. The second allows new experimental stores to open, to test out their concept with a relatively low risk lease, therefore encouraging the establishment of new and vibrant businesses.
The effect of the scheme has been obvious: four businesses that were trialled through the pop up shops scheme have now opened up permanent stores, with a further nine shops established with leases of up to 6 months. Around eleven businesses are operating with the shorter-term stores, though of course, this can fluctuate. The Major of the town, Franz Karlinger, is keen to spread the good news:
“I believe that this project leads the way to revitalising city centres sustainably. Currently there are seven more destinations throughout Austria, which are interested in the concept. Suitable destinations will receive our know how in revitalising inner cities”.
For the concept to work, cooperation was needed, with entrepreneurs, building owners and the local government having to work together to get the scheme up and running. This cooperative spirit fed through to the existing shops in the town, who have proven willing to help the new storeowners and, in turn, have benefitted from increased customer footfall as shoppers are drawn in by the pop up concept.
Funded by a mixture of private, national/regional and European funding, the project is a clear example of answering both consumer demands for more diverse town centres and allowing entrepreneurs the freedom to innovate and adapt.