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Pop Up Shops Revitalize Katoomba Main Street

Take a stroll down the lower end of Katoomba Street nowadays and you could be mistaken for thinking your’e somewhere like Newtown or Paddington - between the funky cafes like the Thunderbird Mexican Cafe on

one side of the street and the arts precinct on the other, you could find yourself spending quite some time popping in and out of the different new venues. From Simon Hearn’s Pop Atelier Art Studio, to Meg Benson's the Musichunter Experience, to Madeleine Chalfant’s stunning Jewellery and Sculpture studio and retail space, to Dee Palmer’s Kookabubble - a shop and studio featuring unique original bush-inspired handcrafted children’s accessories and masks.

 

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Pop Atelier Art Studio

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Music Hunter Experience

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Madeleine Chalfant Studio

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Kookabubble



This weekend, too, they’ll all be opening longer for a Night & Day Maker’s Market from 2pm-9pm on Saturday 12 September and 10am-2pm Sunday 13 September. On Saturday night there'll also be a Salsa Band.

 

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Three months ago, however, these four shops lay empty ... part of a retail downturn in Katoomba that had a lot of people very worried. Empty shops have been described as missing teeth ... the gaps in what would otherwise be a beautiful smile.

Fortunately, two and a half years ago, after a community meeting held to discuss this issue, curator and artist Saskia Everingham and artist Mandy Schoene-Salter crossed paths and decided to try to do something about it. Hearing of a conference being run by Renew Newcastle Saskia put up her hand to go along. It was early 2013.

 

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Mandy Schoene-Salter and Saskia Everingham (Photo: Camille Walsh Photography)

Renew Newcastle was an initiative proposed by Marcus Westbury in 2008 to use cultural activity to help solve the problem of Newcastle’s empty CBD. It found artists, cultural projects and community groups to use and maintain empty buildings until they became commercially viable or were redeveloped.

 

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Saskia and Mandy were inspired to try this approach in Katoomba and, soon after, Mind the Gap : Pop-Up Blue Mountains was born. They gathered a group of volunteers keen to support them, like lawyer Anton Duc. Backed by The Katoomba Chamber of Commerce and Community (KCCC) and the Blue Mountains Economic Enterprise (BMEE) they set up a committee and began the long and frustrating job of trying to find landlords willing to make their spaces available for short term rentals to creative industries. Their dream was to reinvigorate the commercial precinct and enliven Katoomba’s public spaces.

They offered landlords 30 day rolling leases to have their premises occupied. Creative enterprises attract foot traffic and make the disused spaces more attractive to long term tennants. In the meantime, local enterprises have the opportunity to try out retail spaces with the option to take over the lease if the business takes off.

 

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“The pop-up shop concept lowers barriers to try out small business ideas, draws people to the main street and brings direct benefits to property owners,” said Ms Everingham in an interview with the Blue Mountains Gazette.
“As foot traffic increases, there is less vandalism and shops are more likely to lease.”

Jacqueline Brinkman from the BMEE assisted them from the beginning, helping to facilitate meetings and assisting with their business plan.

Their greatest difficulty was their inability to access all these empty shops, partly due to the fact that many are owned by absentee landlords with no interest in developing the business precinct and community life of the town.

Nevertheless, they determinedly pursued their vision, starting a Facebook page in April 2013, launching a website in July 2013, completing mountains of paperwork and running a successful crowdfunding campaign to pay for the insurance they’d need if the project ever took off. A lot of work for volunteers!

A brief success in early 2014 gave them a glimmer of hope. Local landlord Robert Stock gave them access to one of his empty premises at 197 Katoomba St. Artists Hajni Tulogdi and Ingrid Rowell used this space from March to early April to produce a community art project, combining video projection and poetry, and called ‘Other Voices’.

Another frustrating year passed before their final breakthrough came. It took being able to  personally make contact with a landlord who was, thankfully, open to the idea. On June 3 2015 they signed a one year licence for four empty shops on Katoomba St, as well as four office/rehearsal spaces upstairs and two workshop spaces downstairs.

On June 22, 2015, Dee Palmer of Kookabubble was handed the keys to the first shop space. As her first 3 months come to an end, Dee is keen to stay on for another 3 months. She used to work in the sunroom of her house but now, as people start to find her, business is taking off and another 3 months will help consolidate the first 3 months of getting established. Kookabubble is open Wed - Sat 10am - 4pm.

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Dee Palmer at work in her Studio/Retail space, Kookabubble



Newcomer, jeweller and sculptor, Madeleine Chalfant, has now been occupying her space for 5 weeks and she’s keen to stay for at least 3 months, hoping to hold workshops and classes in the space as well as producing and retailing her exquisite work. The studio is open Wed - Sat 10am - 4pm and Sun 10am - 2pm.

 

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Madeleine Chalfant jewellery



Out of sight, but also part of Mind the Gap, are the basement studios where a tailor and a furniture restorer share a studio.

Because of Mind the Gap’s hard work, each of these creative industries has had access to an otherwise financially inaccessible retail and/or studio space. Mind the Gap covers the insurance, and the weekly rental of $50 goes towards electricity and next year’s insurance.

This weekend’s Night & Day Maker’s Market will be the last event for Simon Hearn’s Pop Atelier Art Studio and Meg Benson's the Musichunter Experience. Their shops have attracted a commercial lease for an art gallery.

 

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Meg Benson, The Musichunter




Learn more about Mind the Gap via their Facebook page and their website, where you can sign up for a newsletter:

www.mindthegapbm.com.au
facebook.com/mindthegap.popup

 

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