What business does every small town need? A store filled with small retail spaces


A large, formerly empty city center has been converted into space for many small businesses in Washington, Iowa. Photo of Cathy Lloyd

Small towns are so different that there is not a single business that will work in every small town. But there is a business idea that almost every small town I've visited needs: small spaces.

Each rural town could use smaller spaces to allow locals to start small retail businesses. Not everyone can afford to rent a complete showcase downtown, remodel it, put it in code, and start their retail business. But almost everyone could afford to fill a few hundred square feet, or even a few square feet.

The village of Washington, Iowa, is a divided enterprise. A former department store has been divided into small counterfeit windows in the interior, each just a few hundred square feet. Then, in the inner courtyard, trolleys offer a few dozen square feet for even smaller retail stores. Even small tables are available, only a few square feet. It's been a successful idea for 10 years now. In 2018, six retailers share the space.

A high school girl who makes her own hair accessories can easily create enough product to fill a single table. A winery located in the rural part of the county can use a small storefront as a branch. Everyone can get started and use that experience to learn and grow.

If you're looking for a business idea that works in small towns, consider creating small spaces to allow others to start their own business.

Deb Brown and I share other ideas like this in our latest video at SaveYour.Town, Develop Your Own Entrepreneurs. The video is available on request from Friday, November 9, 2018 and is only available for two weeks. Your questions, stories and examples from your own city are also welcome.

About Becky McCray

Becky launched Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share stories and ideas of building businesses and rural communities with other small businessmen. She and her husband own an Alva, Oklahoma liquor store and a small ranch nearby. Becky is an international speaker on small business.

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