A Retail Incubator Perseveres Brick-And-Mortar Headwinds

By Elisha Sauers
The Virginian-Pilot

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A mix of tenants — selling doughnuts, soap, jewelry, decor and toys — have filled a historic Norfolk building. The entrepreneurs are paying low rents with short-term leases. Its all part of a special program to encourage businesses to stay in the community.


After two years behind metal armor, the historic downtown Selden Arcade has shed the scaffolding.

Inside the 1930s building, sunlight pours through the glass entrance facing Main Street, brightening the corridor where Derek Shaw’s storefront has operated for a month.

Before the facade support came down at the beginning of November, the building was gloomier, and the construction at the door didn’t help get the word out that more than a dozen new businesses were open inside.

Against the odds for downtown retail, a handful of small shops such as Shaw’s are making a go of it inside the arcade, a narrow building between the Slover Library and The Main hotel-conference center that has long been empty.

The businesses within are part of a new retail incubator called Selden Market, an effort to support local startups and offer more shopping downtown. The Downtown Norfolk Council oversees the project.

A mix of tenants — selling doughnuts, soap, jewelry, decor and toys — have filled the space since Oct. 4, paying low rent for short-term leases. The program provides them with mentors and business courses, such as bookkeeping. The goal is to create a springboard for moving into permanent spaces elsewhere in Norfolk.

It’s an environment that allows entrepreneurs to experiment, said market director Careyann Weinberg. None of the vendors have dropped out, she said, but some are making changes to their inventory and workflow based on their new experience.

Spotted Fig Pastries, for example, signed on for one of the longer pop-up booths. After trying to juggle the hours, it became clear the owner needed to tweak the business model. Now the baked goods are being sold in one of the other incubator retailers, Vessel Craft Coffee.

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