Features & Columns

Start Up San Jose

SJ Made, NextSpace and the city come together to solve San Jose's feeling of emptiness
SJMade SHOP LOCAL: Past San Jose Made events have emphasized area artisans.

For decades, what seems like the entire human race has complained about empty buildings in downtown San Jose. Many people move to or pass through the neighborhood, only to experience frustration, sadness and other psychological effects of perpetually vacant storefronts.

Every building seems empty for a different reason, which creates what I call an ecosystem of emptiness. Aside from turning fascist and regulating private property, there seems to be no way out.

But now, an idea new to San Jose has emerged: temporary pop-up retail. In our case, it might be more appropriate to call it guerrilla startup retail.

Expanding on ideas from other cities that converted empty storefronts to temporary retail spots for a weekend, San Jose City Councilmember Sam Liccardo has spearheaded and triple-tagteamed with San Jose Made and NextSpace Coworking to create Start Up Shop, a two-day pop-up installation at the Legacy Civic Tower at Second and Santa Clara streets, as part of an initiative to get property owners to drop their per-square-foot leases in exchange for permit waivers.

The 5,000-square-foot space at 75 E. Santa Clara, an abandoned corporate foyer of sorts, has been empty for many moons. Now that will change, albeit for just two days.

It's a rocking idea. Already a player in the co-working phenom, NextSpace provides physical spaces for mobile workers, laptop nomads, tiny startup teams or anyone else in a nonmonogamous relationship with his or her office. Likewise, San Jose Made already stages alternative vendor fairs featuring local creative retailers and indie businesses.

That said, on Thursday and Friday, March 21 and 22, NextSpace Coworking will migrate its operation to the space in the daytime. San Jose Made will take over at nighttime, staging a vendor fair. It's a groovy combination. We can even call it the NextSanJoseMadeSpace.

Marie Millares, one of the founders of San Jose Made, said Liccardo reached out and got the ball rolling. It came from nowhere.

"Sam emailed us and said, 'How do you feel about helping District Three put together pop-up shops in empty buildings, empty storefront locations downtown?'" Marie recalled. "I was like. 'Yeah, when do we start?' This is what San Jose Made is already trying to do, so it was great to see District Three trying to procure the space for us. ... We were ready to do it. The second someone like a councilman comes in and says, 'Let's do it together,' it's music to our ears."

Gretchen Baisa, director of business development at NextSpace, alerted her network and put the word out. Those who normally work in a coffee shop or at home can participate for two days, even if they just want to look cool checking their Facebook at Second and Santa Clara.

"It's like a field trip for my members," Gretchen said. "Whoever has a laptop and wants to come down and get some work done, they can either do it in their silo and work silently, off to the side, or they can get into it and collaborate and talk to their fellow people and hash out the best solution for their business."

While Start Up Shop is not a profound transformation that seismically alters the cultural landscape, it's a collaboration that would not have occurred two years ago. Plus, it's a great way to activate a boring, empty space, and it makes the neighborhood a better area to look at.

"The thought that five or 10 years ago, a councilmember would take a risk with a vacant space like this, wouldn't even have entered my mind," Gretchen said. "It's great to see the attitudes shifting to where we can have pop-up anything."

Marie agreed: "I think we should keep going with it. I don't think it should just involve San Jose Made. [Liccardo] should involve other groups who can change the model. I think it should be amorphous, the model for it. He should find building owners who are willing to share the space for a few days and see how the model changes, and not just be one partnership. That way the model grows quicker."

As the one who spearheaded the initiative, Liccardo will host the event, including the wrap-up party on Friday night.

Start Up San Jose

Thursday-Friday, March 21-22

75 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose

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