Middletown Eyes Vibrant Pop-Ups Where Empty Storefronts Stand

The head of Middletown's Downtown Business District wants artists, craftspeople, designers and other creative folk to tap Main Street's vacant buildings for a "New York City-esque" new project.


Quentin Phipps has a vision for downtown Middletown.

As the new executive director of the looks out his window high above on Main Street, walks to lunch, city hall, the chamber or appointments with business owners, he can’t help but see the potential for the empty storefronts that dot downtown.

Taking his cue from other Connecticut cities, Phipps has put out a call for artists, craftspeople, designers and inventors to sign on for temporary “pop-up” space projects downtown.

He’s terming it a social-centric urban revitalization project.

“We have a major real estate agent looking to give us space,” Phipps says. Right now, the idea, he says, is “purely in the conception stage,” but very quickly could begin to take shape.

He has a lofty goal for downtown’s lifeless unoccupied spaces — transforming them into a one-night or one-week-long combination art, eclectic gift items, live music, entertainment, food and revelry.

“It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be hip. The partners are going to have to be adaptable, whimsical, and able to say, ‘this was good for the week that we had it, now we’re going to go somewhere else for another week.’”

The idea is to have shoppers know that if they don’t buy something today or check out an art viewing that very hour, it won’t be there the next day, let alone next week. “I’m thinking New York city-esque — vibrant, hip, classy,” Phipps says.

Since he came aboard in April, Phipps has worked diligently to bring his ideas for a very lively downtown thrumming with activity to fruition.

“My goal is to push all of our partners and the community together to execute a program that we have had the infrastructure to do for years,” Phipps says.

The intention is to foster partnerships with downtown real estate stakeholders and the arts community to stage exhibitions in collaboration with other artists, businesses, media and creators.  

“When you have an administration [like we do] in city hall; we have the strongest chamber in the entire nation, restaurants that have been here for over a decade now and being very successful, retail that has been here a long time — we have an opportunity to really work together, to really excel, at these sort of programs that other towns are doing with half the resources that we have.”

It’s not the first time the idea has been floated in the city. On New Year’s Eve, Middletown was host to pop-up art show.

As part of Middnight on Main’s downtown-wide celebration, transformed the vacant 484 Main Street space into a New York-style gallery for one night shortly after the former Nikita’s Bar and Grill closed down.

Artists and friends Kate Ten Eyck of Middletown, of Middletown and of Durham exhibited their work during the nine-hour show. The popular authentic Mexican restaurant Iguanas Ranas Taqueria now occupies the space.

And before came to Main Street Market on Main in June of 2010, the front of the mall spot where It's Only Natural Market once was became a holiday market for weekends in December — with knitted items, photographs, jewelry and other handicrafts.

Across the state, cities are transforming their urban centers populated with lifeless empty space to temporary retail and arts destinations.

The city of Torrington is has an active organization that uses its empty storefronts for temporary art galleries and film houses.

When the Litchfield Hills Film Festival relocated to Torrington, the city’s Downtown Partners offered festival directors a pop-up theater at 75 Main Street. 

Also in town, the exhibit, “Artspace 2012 — An Interruption,” a series of three arts shows in a vacant storefront at 33 Main Street. “This prime retail space has been temporarily lent to Artspace by the Torrington Downtown Partners for this special arts initiative and has been transformed into a professional, urban art gallery,” according to the website.

Project Storefronts, an award-winning program created by the City of New Haven Arts, Culture and Tourism and the Economic Development Corporation, brings fresh, innovative arts-related businesses to life in formerly empty retail spaces around New Haven.

Project Storefronts works with “creative entrepreneurs” to transform vacant storefronts into places that attract shoppers and potential tenants while increasing area foot traffic. It negotiates with property owners for 90-day access to empty retail spaces.

“I’m confident if we pull together, we can continue to be the model for what other towns and cities should be doing,” Phipps says. “Here are the assets that we’ve always had. The community as a whole is in a place to say, ‘let’s go from good to grace,’ and I’m just glad to be a part of that spirit and that forward momentum.”

Contact Phipps at 860-347-1424 or quentin@downtownmiddletown.com.


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