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Norfolk/Wrentham - Local Town Pages

Franklin and Wrentham Get State Funding for Pop Up Shops

by J.D. O’Gara
What if small, local businesses were given an opportunity to test drive a storefront in the heart of their small towns? Thanks to a Regional Pilot Project Grant awarded by the state, the towns of Franklin and Wrentham are about to find out. The two towns, together, were awarded $188,000 from the Mass. Department of Economic Development at the end of April. The grant was one of $5 million awarded to 37 municipalities and non-profits to assist with development of regional recovery strategies.
“With the assistance of the Regional Pilot Project Grant Program, our administration looks forward to continuing to build on our progress toward economic recovery across the Commonwealth,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “These grants will empower recipients to leverage their own local expertise to tailor recovery strategies that support the unique needs of each region of Massachusetts.”
“This is a joint grant that we are working with, with the town of Wrentham, and we are using empty downtown storefronts,” said Anne Marie Tracey, of Franklin. “The aim is to increase foot traffic in these areas and provide opportunities for small businesses to expand their reach and growth. We’re basically renting (the vacant spaces), and we’re going to be putting out an application process for small businesses to apply to use the space temporarily to sort of test drive the market. During COVID, so many small business owners had to pivot, and we know it’s a big leap to go from running a business out of your home or only having a website to actually having a brick-and-mortar location. We’re trying to bridge the gap.”
Tracey says that from a municipal perspective, Franklin’s recent market study illuminated what Franklin’s missing. “We’re looking to fill some of our holes, and looking to offer the space specifically for a time to artists and artisans. This really is a good fit for Franklin and the creative culture we have here.”
Tracey approached Wrentham as a partner, because, she says, “Wrentham is doing the exact same thing in their downtown.”
“Franklin is kind of what you want to work with on business development and downtown business,” said Rachel Benson, Wrentham’s Director of Planning and Development. Benson noted COVID has hurt businesses in Wrentham, and the town has been looking for ways to bring attention to the small businesses in the historic center of town.
“This program seemed like such a perfect fit.” said Benson. The town and Board of Selectman have always been “very supportive of our businesses,” but “we don’t get to help as much due to the lack of state funds available,” she said. “It is evident from our recent Master Plan surveys that everyone loves and enjoys the downtown. Everyone loves the history and quaint aesthetic, but oftentimes, local consumers envision just the outlets. This program is a great way to bring people into both our downtowns and showcase that there’s rich history and diverse business opportunities in our towns.”
The joint grant will complement another grant Wrentham has received for updating the town’s 17-year-old Master Plan with funds from the state. The town has already taken feedback it has received through a series of focus groups to facilitate the creation of a town-wide business group called the Wrentham Business Collaborative, says Benson, “which will help businesses to connect, share ideas and promote each other.”
At press time, Franklin had two spaces secured to run its pop-up shop program.
“They’re in highly visible locations, and we’re offering these spaces to small businesses to sort of pop up in our downtown, whether it’s for a weekend or a week or however long they would like to try and see if opening a brick-and-mortar location, having that experience, would be a good fit for their business,” said Tracey. “It’s also a way for an existing small business to test out an opportunity to expand and perhaps open a second location without the long-term commitment of a lease.”
Benson explained that while there are not many vacant storefronts in downtown Wrentham, “one that we do have is a beautiful historic building, the owner of which we will be working with to utilize their space.” Wrentham is also considering the common, the Center School lot, or Sweatt Park for festival or market-type approaches. The town is working with the Cultural Council to identify local artists and artisans and also hopes to attract home businesses to the program.
“A big piece of the grant is downtown revitalization,” noted Tracey. “We’re hoping that driving people downtown and having new reasons for people to visit stores, constantly changing the foot traffic, will help our existing businesses by giving them exposure.”
Tracey is excited to “see what comes in. The ultimate best-case-scenario would be we bring some unique small business to our municipality and they have a great experience and then put down roots and stay here.”
If you are a business owner who would like to apply to the program, you can contact Rachel
Benson, in Wrentham, at [email protected] , or (508) 384-5441. In Franklin, you can contact Anne Marie Tracey at [email protected] or (508) 553-4888.