Sydney Miranda and Cyntelle Renteria had known for years they wanted to open up their own store, but the prospect of finding a place was a headache.
As young fashion entrepreneurs, the duo faced the harsh reality of steep rents and mandatory five-year leases, neither of which they could afford.
“We love Central City and we really wanted to do something in the neighborhood, but we couldn’t afford any of the spaces,” Renteria recalled.
Eventually, the women hit so many dead ends that they started considering opening up their shop in a shipping container — a route increasingly taken by other artists that is considerably cheaper and provides more economic and creative freedom.
That’s when they approached Sadat Spencer, a local real estate developer who was interested in an alternate approach for a lot at the corner of Euterpe Street and Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard.
Shipping containers didn’t quite fit Spencer’s vision. In a city like New Orleans, it would have to be wood, he thought, something that honored the architecture of his hometown. He’d seen similar models — tiny homes that acted as retail incubators — in China and Europe.
And so, the group’s idea for an outdoor pop-up market composed of tiny wooden cottages started to take shape, and in early November, Lot 1701 opened.
On any given day, there might be a kids clothing store, a jewelry boutique doubling as a juice bar, a yoga studio or a fashion consulting company residing inside the small, 200-square-foot homes, which are built from recycled materials and reclaimed wood. The next day, they could all be gone, replaced by other vendors.
The tiny homes are built on trailer beds so they can be moved to accommodate special occasions and events.
Some weekends, a DJ holds court, providing the soundtrack for curious passersby and in-the-know shoppers. In the coming months, the lot’s event lineup includes fashion shows, a tequila launch party and a "healing fair" with tarot card readers and holistic practitioners.
The pop-up market — named Lot 1701 for its address on O.C. Haley, the evolving Central City strip — rents the eight cottages to entrepreneurs by the day or week.
The concept has a two-pronged goal: to provide up-and-coming entrepreneurs with temporary retail space while drawing more commerce and future investments to the neighborhood.
“The overall spirit of the lot is to give small business owners an easy platform to establish and to showcase their mostly online products but also to help spur development,” said Spencer, who purchased the 8,000-square-foot lot last year and is in the process of developing another half-dozen Central City properties.
For their part, Miranda and Renteria run the only permanent fixture on the lot, a fabric boutique called Nameless Fabrics. As part of their business agreement with Spencer, the women act as property managers for the market, handling all the bookings, social media, upkeep, marketing and website maintenance.
They envision the lot as growing into a mecca for entrepreneurs of all kinds, not necessarily just retail. One-on-one yoga sessions, massage parlors, spiritual and healing workshops, music and recording studios, office space for freelance or traveling business professionals, makeup consultations and artist studios are all among the prospective queries the pair have received.
The cottage concept is similar to the tiny-house trend sweeping the nation: Smaller spaces, cheaper utilities and lower overhead costs make for a more approachable business model for those lacking the financial wherewithal to open a brick-and-mortar store.
The business model has taken hold elsewhere in the city but so far only for food or art concepts.
The nearby Roux Carre rents out spaces to aspiring chefs and pop-up kitchens, and the St. Roch Market rents out food stands to emerging food concepts at its St. Claude Avenue food hall. The Frenchmen Street Art Market is another similar model, but with considerably fewer amenities and at a lower cost to vendors.
Rates at Lot 1701 are $125 to $250 a day through the end of the year. All the utilities are covered, and renters have access to on-site bathrooms, free Wi-Fi and a communal lobby area. In addition, the managers promote the space through events and social media marketing, which helps some lesser-known retailers get exposure.
The O.C. Haley Boulevard corridor, once a bustling shopping district, has undergone significant changes and redevelopment over the past decade, including a major streetscape project and the opening of several restaurants, shops and music venues.
Lot 1701 is the latest in a string of new business openings, and Spencer said he hopes the lot acts as a catalyst for more commerce by bringing more foot traffic to the area.
Not everything on the street has been a success. Primitivo, from restaurateur Adolfo Garcia, closed earlier this year, two years after its opening, and the nearby Dryades Public Market, although still open, has seen its share of financial setbacks and struggles.
Still, Spencer said, he remains optimistic: “It’s about getting foot traffic, and the proximity to downtown helps. The challenge is there, but I think the future is bright.”