Cooking up a great place to start

Published 5:25 pm Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Niles Main Street Initiative has signed a lease agreement with Leader Publications to obtain the former Pickwick Club in the 200 block of North Fourth Street. The space will be used as a business incubator. (Daily Star Photo/KATIE ROHMAN)

A former Niles landmark will soon help aspiring business owners get a jump-start.

The Niles Main Street Initiative (formerly the Downtown Development Authority) has established a business incubator in the 200 block of North Fourth Street in the building owned by Leader Publications. The second-story space is most well-known as the former Pickwick Club, a long-time private gentlemen’s club.

According to Carri Harrington, economic restructuring chairperson for Niles Main Street, business owners can pay to use the incubator’s space and equipment.

“It’s not just going to be the kitchen space they can use,” she said. “We are going to have office space. If they need to have a computer, a copy machine, a phone.

“We want to be the entreprenetural center for the region,” Harrington said. “We are looking at getting partners from across the state line.”

The idea came to Lisa Croteau, director of marketing and administration for Niles Main Street, earlier this year at the Niles Bensidoun French Market downtown.

“Lisa was identifying those people who might have the need for a facility to make their product in larger masses,” Harrington said. For example, if someone wanted to make their signature pies to sell, but needed a larger facility than their home kitchen, the business owner could utilize the incubator.

Niles Main Street researched incubator kitchens, Harrington said, “knowing we had a need in the community for start-up businesses to produce their products.”

“Now is the time to set up an entrepreneurial center for distributing specialty foods,” Harrington said.

Niles Main Street toured a similar incubator in Hart, Mich., where they learned about operations and obtaining grants. The Hart incubator receives donations as well.

Niles Main Street also hopes to obtain funding through grants and donations. A goal has not been set, but Harrington said $10,000 would help the incubator open sooner.

“We don’t have any funding,” she said. “We are in the process for looking for any donations. We don’t anticipate being up and running for at least a couple months.”

Niles Main Street is not currently being charged to use the space, and will pay a portion of the fees paid by those using the space in lieu of fixed rent.

The space, some of which is still decorated from its Pickwick era, may invoke nostalgia for some Niles residents, Harrington said. Pickwick memorabilia will be eventually be sold to raise money for the incubator.

The incubator has not officially been named, but Harrington said “Creative Economic Development Center for Entrepreneurs” and “Downtown Niles Entrepreneurial Center and Culinary Incubator” have been two options.

“Our goal is to make this a regional thing,” Harrington explained. “It’s going to be a regional project stretching as far as about 90 miles. We wanted to make sure it was going to happen.”