Century Block "incubator" concept creates low-risk investment for Muskegon retail, helps seed growth

If it weren’t for the six-month lease and the central checkout stations, Clothes Junkie owner Cindy DeBoer says she would never have been able to open a second location at the Century Club Shops in downtown Muskegon this month.

A Zeeland resident, DeBoer has been the sole owner and operator of the Clothes Junkie near her home for the last four years, though the boutique at 141 E. Main that offers cash for gently used, brand name clothing and accessories has been open for a total of seven. 

“I don’t have employees; I have two daughters that help me out occasionally,” she says. “So, really for me to expand wasn’t an option, but because they have that central checkout up there I thought, well this is the perfect opportunity for me to try to expand without me having to hire additional staff.”

Clothes Junkie was joined in the opening of its second location by another upscale thrift store from Grand Haven called Second Impression, whose owner of 17 years, Linda Forbes, had the same low-risk investment plan in mind. 

However, as retailers continue to multiply in the Century Club Shops storefronts, developer and Century Block building owner Gary Post says the growth has been and will continue to be deliberate – all part of the “incubator” business concept the buildings were remodeled around.

“First, I don’t want to suggest that in the interest of re-establishing retail downtown, anything and any business goes,” he says, adding that Century Club Shops have always been evaluated as a whole and are geared toward “upscale, boutique-style businesses” that offer unique and locally made products. 

The incubator concept includes a lot of things – proximity to the Muskegon Chamber of Commerce offices, short-term leasing and flexibility, and reduced rent for new business owners still working to build a customer base. Incubator businesses also enjoy the use of one, central checkout that can process customers for all the vendors in the building.

And while all these business policies work to the benefit of satellite locations like Clothes Junkie and Second Impressions, they were made in the spirit of new development for people like Jody Gosselin, co-owner of the vintage/rehabbed furniture store Rejuvenated, which will celebrate its grand opening at the Century Block Shops on September 20. 

After traveling to Ludington, Fremont, and Pentwater to look at open retail spaces before settling on Muskegon, Gosselin says she and Rejuvenate co-owner Steve Hunt were just as deliberate in their search for the right retail space as Post has been in filling his own. 

“The goal, again, is to help businesses get started with a goal to grow them and hopefully spin them off into other locations – preferably downtown – as they become available,” Post says.

He knows some of the businesses are content to stay the same size in their existing Century Club storefronts, and that’s okay with him because they add variety to the merchandise that's available. In the same way, satellite locations for established businesses create an easier avenue for downtown customers to check out products they used to have to drive out of town to purchase.

“We welcome all those,” Post says, “but we love to help start-up businesses as well.” 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer
Image courtesy of Cindy DeBoer 
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