There’s no denying the way we shop was throttled by the pandemic. But while online sales continue to grow, we’re not ready to give up shopping in person. “People love to touch and feel and experience things,” says Tori Frericks, founder of the Landing Lab, one of several new retail incubators in Atlanta.
However, organizers say stores need to offer an experience in order to compete with online convenience—making them destinations rather than just places to run errands. That could mean staging events, from product demonstrations to book clubs, or just offering shoppers a glass of wine. And it means filling developments with experiential—and sometimes experimental—collectives, where visitors can meet the makers and discover new products. Says Kia Perry, cofounder of HerMarket at Village Supply, “We want to make it exciting, where it’s like, Oh my gosh, I’m having so much fun while I shop.”
Many of these incubators, like the just-opened New Black Wall Street Market in Stonecrest, make opportunities for Black- or brown-owned businesses.
And, while revenue is of course important, so are the communities built around these entrepreneurs. The pandemic taught customers not to take neighborhood vendors for granted. Lakeysha Hallmon, founder of the Village Retail at Ponce City Market, says, “What we’re learning is that we need to get back to building local businesses. Community is what keeps local businesses open.”
Here are four markets to try. Stop by and maybe you’ll help launch a national brand.
The Village Retail
Hallmon, who has been featured by Today, Forbes, and other national media, launched the Village Market ATL in 2016. Her quarterly evening markets featured minority-owned businesses that produce socially conscious and all-natural apparel, products, and food—which have generated some $5.3 million in economic impact (sales, market contractors, etc.) over the last five years. In 2020, Hallmon added a brick-and-mortar space at PCM called the Village Retail. “It’s very hard for up-and-coming brands to get a site at a prime retail location, especially Black and brown businesses,” she says. Her operation gives many of them their first forays into retail, providing knowledge, skills, and resources they might otherwise not have access to. “We consider ourselves as the launchpad for thriving businesses,” she says. Her 40-plus brands—from 38 states and four countries—include Made Leather Co., Play Pits, and the Honey Pot (a feminine products line that is available at Target, CVS, and other major retailers). Her slogan? “Support Is a Verb.”
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The Landing Lab
Frericks founded the Landing Lab at the end of 2021 because she believes that brick-and-mortar shopping isn’t dead. She had also noticed that tens of thousands of direct-to-consumer products were launched online during the pandemic. “There are all these brands being featured on Instagram, but there’s no way to experience them and see them in person [in Atlanta],” she says. The Landing Lab hosts such entrepreneurs in its Buckhead space, providing professional merchandising and retail expertise. Apparel and accessory lines, such as Soli & Sun, Faherty, and Sh*t That I Knit, rotate by season and are mostly owned or heavily staffed by women. Frericks stocks a small inventory and can be nimble with her assortment thanks to consignment agreements. She also plans to start hosting events that promote women in business.
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Underground Atlanta’s latest incarnation is as a public-art space-cum-incubator. The district was purchased by Lalani Ventures in 2020. Last October, while also hosting the Art of Banksy: Without Limits exhibition, it launched a rotation of 70 artists and entrepreneurs including retail, art studios, and galleries as part of its Roots Pop-Up program. Rent is free to those who are accepted. “We’re taking on about a quarter-million dollars of an obligation in rent,” says Kris Pilcher, creative director. “We wanted to maximize the potential of this district and reestablish it as a center of gravity.” That includes vendors like KroyKorn Gourmet Popkorn, founded by eight-year-old Kroy Richardson, and Crown Me Collection, a hat company that claims Migos and 2 Chainz as fans.
Look for Artist Eugene Byrd’s sweatshirts ($35)
What began as a series of pop-up sidewalk markets has evolved into a yearlong partnership with Buckhead Village District. Village Supply at HerMarket provides opportunities for brands that wouldn’t otherwise get exposure at such a high-profile venue. Perry and co-owner Jazlin Pitts manage the store and curate the offerings, which must be visually powerful and at least half-owned by women. Products range from books and technology to handbags. They’ve helped launch brands like Gilded Body, a skincare line now sold online by Saks, and Semaine, an herbal supplement for women now available at Target. “For a lot of brands, we were their first market experiences,” says Pitts. “They’re now in these big-box retailers, which was our goal from the beginning. It’s beautiful to see them reaching their potential.” The duo also has a long-standing pop-up at the Lola, a women-only coworking and gathering space in Old Fourth Ward.
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This article appears in our February 2022 issue.