Downtown house refurbished.jpg

This downtown home, recently renovated into a multi-family dwelling, was part of the Secret City Tour held by Downtown Mansfield Inc. in September.

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MANSFIELD ─ The shutdown and restrictions followed by the COVID-19 pandemic have hit many businesses. By doing pop-up shops and formalizing the Secret City Tours, Downtown Mansfield Inc. (DMI) is trying to stabilize the business environment.

The nonprofit used to hold the Secret City Tour once or twice a year before the pandemic, CEO Jennifer Kime said. It works with downtown property owners and takes people to check the buildings. While some participants were photographers or just interested in the property, many people were looking for places for their businesses.

Kime said DMI also has been doing independent tours for people interested in starting a business. The two types of “open house tours” have attracted 600 participants this year.

The most recent case is a legacy house on the corner of Fifth Street and Walnut Street. Kime said the house has been vacant for dozens of years. When DMI put the property on tour, it was “sold out” right away.

To recruit more business into downtown, DMI is planning to formalize the tours, starting in spring. Kime said there would be a regular schedule of opening up buildings for the public to view.   

“We would target people who are thinking about moving to downtown and renting a storefront space … If we can get business owners in the spaces more frequently, we'll be able to lease them (properties) better, ” she said.

When Ohio started to open up in May, DMI began to do pop-up shops for entrepreneurs at its first-floor space. Katie Crall, the communications and events assistant, said they have worked with 15 businesses, offering the space for free as a temporary marketplace.

The Tiny Tim Shoppe is the current pop-up shop for children under 15 years old. Eight local business are selling their products on-site. It will open every Saturday and goes up until Christmas.

Kime said DMI will keep maintaining the availability for pop-up shops next year. It is a great opportunity for entrepreneurs and new businesses to grow.        

While some businesses in downtown Mansfield closed this year, Kime said a few opened as well, including Healthy Transformation, Blackbird Records and Beauty Bar.

DMI has been helping businesses owners to apply for all kinds of grants in the past months. But some of them were reluctant to go through the process because they were not familiar with it.

“Many of our small businesses have never done grants before, especially some of our older, more traditional businesses,” she said.

With the monthly merchant meeting being canceled, Crall said DMI has been sending out information through emails, a private Facebook group and other social media, trying to reach as many business owners as possible.

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