When the city launched a campaign last year to fill vacant storefronts Downtown with quirky shops and displays, it did so with the hope that some might decide to stick around for a while.
And it looks like three of them will do just that.
Boutique 208, Dream Cream Ice Cream and Awesome Books are looking to set out on their own, either at their current locations or elsewhere in the Golden Triangle, after successful first years as part of Project Pop Up: Downtown.
The initiative, started with the help of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, offered budding artists, entrepreneurs and nonprofits the chance to operate from their own storefronts with a year's worth of free rent. The city chose the first 11 pop-ups from around 90 applicants.
After nearly a year in business at 208 Sixth St., Tamara Barker, owner of Boutique 208, said she is optimistic enough about sales that she wants to stay at the location long term.
"It does seem like our sales are continuing to increase every month," she said. "We had a real phenomenal weekend with all the Light-Up Night activities."
Ms. Barker said she is close to completing negotiations on a three-year lease, with an option for three more, with landlord Merrill Stabile.
Her location, she added, couldn't have been better given how close it is to the cultural district. To take advantage of the crowds for shows and concerts, Boutique 208 has evening hours on Wednesdays through Saturdays.
"We do the bulk of our business on evenings and weekends," she said. "We find that the customer really appreciates us being open. We also get a lot of foot traffic from events in the cultural district."
The boutique sells photographs, original artwork, jewelry, clothing, accessories, housewares and bath and body products, all handmade by local artists. She works with at least 40 artists who take turns staffing the store and who keep all of the profits from the items they sell.
Dream Cream Ice Cream opened in May at 539 Liberty Ave. and had a "really great summer" in terms of sales, said Thomas Jamison, co-owner.
The parlor is unique in that it selects up to 12 "dreamers" -- individuals or groups -- who have a specific need for cash and asks them to select an ice cream flavor. Those flavors are then sold for a month, with 25 percent of the proceeds going to support their need or cause.
During the summer, Dream Cream Ice Cream raised more than $15,000 to help fund various causes, from a trip to a hospital in Rwanda to a waiting room for a Catholic Charities Free Healthcare Center.
"I'm proud of the work we've done, but it motivates and inspires me to do more," Mr. Jamison said. "There are tons of companies and people who could benefit from us. So I don't think our work will ever stop."
He said he has yet to finalize a new lease with Mr. Stabile, the store's landlord, but is confident that he will be able to do so.
"We want to find a way that we can do this. It's good for the area. It's added activity," Mr. Stabile noted. "I have no regrets [about offering the space]. I think it's going to pay off for all of the ones who have come into our building."
Awesome Books also would like to stay Downtown, but isn't sure exactly where it will end up. Co-owner Bob Ziller said the store space at 929 Liberty Ave. is leased through the end of December and then will be renewed month to month.
Mr. Ziller also has talked to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust about renting space at 811 Liberty, which would be large enough to accommodate the vegetarian restaurant he and co-owner Laura Jean McLaughlin would like to add to supplement the bookstore.
Either way, he would like to stay Downtown. "I think there's a lot of potential here, especially if we pair it up with a restaurant. I think that will bring in more foot traffic," he said.
Mark Belko: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1262.