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Cleveland's BoxSpot Retail Center: Where Shipping Meets Shopping

Amid countless sales at big box stores over the post-Thanksgiving shopping weekend, some of Cleveland's newest retailers will be offering their own deals — from decidedly smaller boxes.

BoxSpot, at Kinsman Avenue and East 81st Street, is a collection of 10 shipping containers, painted yellow and gray and repurposed to hold seven independently owned stores. Tenants include everything from a candy shop to an eyeglass store. There's also an outdoor picnic and performance space with tables and benches.

The idea was conceived and sponsored by neighborhood group Burten Bell Carr to bring retail to one of the city's lowest-income neighborhoods, not far from the planned route of the Opportunity Corridor road project.

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Olympia Robinson stands outside I Specz Eyewear, her eyeglass store at BoxSpot. [Justin Glanville / ideastream]

Since officially opening in October, BoxSpot retailers say business has been slow but building. People are stopping by as much to chat about the novel spaces and neighborhood as to shop, said Sharyna Cloud, owner of The Kandy Kupboard, an old-fashioned candy store that sells both mass-produced and locally made sweets.

"Some people come in and talk for a minute, some people have stayed 45 minutes just talking about the community and what it needs and how this helps the traffic and the revitalization," Cloud said.

On a recent afternoon, with four customers and two employees inside, the store was cheerful and packed to the gills. Two young women dug into a jar of cellophane-wrapped gobstoppers, giggling, while a man buying chocolate broke into spontaneous song.

"It's the candy store," he warbled, as Cloud laughed.

The $1.4 million BoxSpot project was years in the making and is modeled on a similar concept in downtown Las Vegas.

The surrounding neighborhood has a median annual household income of about $17,000 and the poverty rate is above 50 percent, according to the most recent estimates. Those statistics have made attracting traditional or chain retailers difficult, said Tim Tramble, executive director of Burten Bell Carr.

"In every low-income, disinvested neighborhood, people are trying to figure out, how do you jump-start the local economy?" Tramble told ideastream in 2017, when the project was being planned. "How do you give opportunities to entrepreneurially-minded individuals who may be doing business in their home but cannot afford the cost of typical traditional retail?"

Would-be tenants were invited to submit applications to occupy the spaces. The final seven were selected based on their ability to support one another and contribute to neighborhood revitalization.

The average rent for BoxSpot retailers is about $450, with shared spaces renting for less.

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An observation tower offers views of the surrounding neighborhood and downtown Cleveland. [Justin Glanville / ideastream]

Optician Olympia Robinson moved her eyeglass store, I Specz Eyewear, to BoxSpot from her former East Cleveland location. Business has been brisk so far, she said,  showing that just because a neighborhood is low-income doesn't mean it can't support neighborhood shopping.

"A lot of older people within the community come in to check it out and they're loving the space and how it was built," she says. "They're just like, ‘Oh, we wish it was summertime so we can maybe hang out down there’."

The BoxSpot stores are partnering to offer sales and special visits from Santa Claus on Saturday afternoons through the holiday shopping season.

Copyright 2020 90.3 WCPN ideastream. To see more, visit 90.3 WCPN ideastream.