BY AIDAN SEIDEN | Since the age of 18, Anita Durst has been a staunch supporter of New York’s avant-garde arts community.
In 1995, after the death of her mentor, Reza Abdoh, a director and playwright who staged productions in unusual places like warehouses and vacant buildings, she founded the non-profit association ChaShaMa. The organization is dedicated to providing artists with a studio and exhibition space in Manhattan, free of charge and with no content restrictions.
In direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Durst and ChaShaMa have partnered with the city’s Small Business Services Department to develop Storefront Startup, an initiative designed to restore economic stability, entrepreneurship, creativity and hope in New York.
Durst has 26 years of experience connecting struggling artists with empty studio spaces. But with Storefront Startup, she is now moving away from art and partnering with small businesses of all kinds.
“It’s a lot more about helping New York’s economy and bringing back the flavor of little mom-and-pop shops,” said Durst. “Working with visual artists is significantly different from dealing with small businesses. “
Durst equates the difference for her between working at ChaShaMa and Storefront Startup with learning a new language. The new retail initiative involves embracing the management side and learning the needs of a business in order to build a successful operation.
Since one of Storefront Startup’s primary goals is to help rent empty commercial space, the program has received an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response from owners. With locations already secured in Harlem, the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn, Storefront Startup is now waiting for more real estate owners to contact due to the huge amount of vacant storefronts and idle development sites.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Jarvis Holcomb, 47, owner of an empty storefront on Bleecker St., “especially given the horrific effects the pandemic has had on all of us. Everyone gets paid. and these companies have the opportunity to present their products in a way they never could have done before, it’s a win-win situation.
The other central goal of Storefront Startup is to promote local shopping as it helps stimulate the economy and support local artists and young entrepreneurs.
“It has impacted my business in the most remarkable and positive way,” Lesley Ware, owner of The Creative Cookie, said of Storefront Startup. “My visibility has increased and I am able to offer opportunities not only for myself, but also for other artists and designers involved. “
One of Durst’s favorite examples of what his initiative can accomplish is The Creative Cookie, a black and women-owned business that was recently in a space at 21 Greenwich Ave. The company was founded in 2008 by Ware, whom Durst calls “amazing” and “alive”.
What started as a fashion blog and sewing workshop has gradually evolved into a pop-up fashion store, with products constantly out of stock, with the help of Storefront Startup. The multi-brand boutique focuses on stylish products, such as handmade handbags and quirky clothing, which are also “socially, ethically and environmentally friendly”.
Additionally, Ware is now working alongside artists and other small businesses bringing them into his store and offering them an opportunity. And due to Ware’s involvement and success with the Storefront Startup program, she now has the option of taking out her own lease in the village.
“I would love to continue working with Miss Durst until we further define our branding and further develop our base,” Ware said. “ChaShaMa [Storefront Startup] provides the necessary infrastructure – marketing, public relations assistance, promotion of events, space, etc. – to ensure success and networking opportunities with other program participants. It really feels seamless.
Although his Art to Ware store is no longer in the Greenwich St. space, thanks to Durst, Ware will reopen the pop-up store in a new Chelsea location at 320 W. 23rd St. at the end of August.
After seeing Storefront Startup’s success over the past year, placing 30 women-owned and minority-owned small businesses in stores, the Department of Small Business Services awarded the organization an $ 80,000 grant. to expand the initiative. This follows another $ 80,000 that SBS gave to the effort the previous year.
Currently, Storefront Startup is in talks with representatives from The Oculus in Lower Manhattan, who are “very excited about the idea of minority and women-owned businesses,” Durst said. The initiative also aims to place a business in the closed Strawberry store at the Port Authority bus terminal in Midtown.
Durst, who Ware jokingly described as an “artistic fairy” due to her energy and inspiring demeanor, is now looking for homeowners who are willing to provide long-term spaces for up to a year or more. Durst thinks “three months is too short”. According to her, having a full year can really make a difference in the way a business is run and can give entrepreneurs a better understanding of how to get ahead in the industry.
As Ware said, “Pop-ups are the future of fashion retail so I feel like I’m on the cutting edge with Miss Durst.”