Chelsea Schneider, Innovations Content Manager, Aim

Knox community leaders want to attract more retail to the northern Indiana city’s downtown.

To kickstart those efforts, the city purchased a vacant building to fill with a local entrepreneur. The idea: Provide a launch pad for a new business by softening the upfront costs of opening a storefront.

They call the concept a Pop Up Store. And today, the vacant building in the heart of Downtown Knox is being transformed into a coffee shop.

“In small downtowns, you’re not going to get your chain stores,” said Mayor Dennis Estok, who leads the city of more than 3,500 residents. “You are going to get something that is unique.”

And for Knox, unique means “The Rabbit.” The shop will feature an on-site roaster, along with a menu of drip coffee, lattes and more. The store’s owners run a wholesale coffee roasting company, which also will serve as support to the retail operation.

The idea for the Pop Up Store came from Estok’s belief that more people would follow their dreams of opening a business if they weren’t scared of the initial costs. So the city decided to give an entrepreneur a big break. And in turn, the community will gain a permanent retail store.

The Redevelopment Commission purchased the building for $16,000 with funds from tax-increment financing and made about $10,000 worth of improvements. Then they opened the store up to applications from prospective tenants. The new tenant is making additional improvements to the building and will receive six months of free rent to help them become established in the community. If successful, the business owners could one day purchase the building from the city, Estok said.

“The thing is you can do these small things, you do not have to be a rich city, you can do these small things that can make an impact,” Estok said. “I think everything we’ve done has helped the quality of life in Knox.”

Just down the street from the Pop Up Shop, an artist is painting  a new mural on a downtown building.

The city also added a splash pad, performance stage and concession/bathroom building to a park near downtown. With the splash pad, Estok wanted an amenity for families that didn’t come with the high price tag of trip to a water park. The splash pad is free and has had a big impact on the small community.

“It has drawn people from the surrounding communities, so we’ve noticed an influx of people from other towns coming in, which we kind of wanted to see that,” Estok said. “We wanted people to come in and see what Knox had to offer.”

City leaders paid for the park projects out of a mix of local funds, including the city’s miscellaneous income, CEDIT, riverboat and tax-increment financing. The projects also benefited from donations and community volunteers.

Now, there is a hunger out there for the city to continue making improvements.

“Everything we’ve done has brought people in. It has given us that small hometown atmosphere,” Estok said, “and I think people now don’t hesitate to say, ‘I’m from Knox, Indiana.’”

The Terminal