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Shipping container stores support small business in Sparta

The new Town Square project is supporting local business during a difficult year for proprietors.

SPARTA, Mich. — Keeping a business alive in 2020 has been challenging. Starting a brand new one has been even harder. The Downtown Development Authority in Sparta hopes it make that processes easier with the Town Square Project. 

In the middle of downtown, four shipping containers are connected by a big deck with seating and recreation area.

"I like to say it was a virtually abandoned parking lot in the back," said Elizabeth Morse, the Director for the Downtown Development Authority, "We piled snow there in the winter. It was space not used. Now, we have a beautiful, grassy courtyard area, decking, places for people to linger and spread out, and of course new retailers for people to check out and support local businesses."

Credit: 13 OYS
The shipping containers are connected by a large deck and tables.

The Town Square project officially launched on September 17th. One of the four shipping container businesses, Ronnie Mack's Hot Box Hash House, had their grand opening Thursday. 

"I thought I was a little crazy for it," said Ronald Edison, owner of Ronnie Mack's, "but when the opportunity arose, I took it. The low overhead, the easy start up was just too good to pass up."

Edison said he was a chef at another eatery earlier this year, but they have not reopened since the pandemic began. This gave him the chance to start his own business, saying, "With the bad, comes the good." Ronnie Mack's serves hose hash, brisket, pulled pork and more.

The shipping containers give the businesses a chance to open a brick and mortar location, but with low overhead and utility costs. Morse said the container shops were immediately filled, and they even have a waiting list for the space. 

"What we’ve noticed is the influx of new people looking and checking out what’s going on, has helped out adjacent businesses that have been here a while," said Morse, "They’re eating dinner at the restaurants or stopping in and getting something at those places."

The shipping container stores are also giving some proprietors a business move they had not thought of before. Jill Pheiffle owns Kiki and Crew Merchant Co-op, a handmade gift store, which she ran on Etsy and Facebook before this project. 

"I honestly never even thought having a little shop or store would be something attainable for me," said Pheiffle, "I did this honestly out of my basement and Etsy, so this is nothing I ever dreamed of and it’s been great. And I love the shipping containers."

Her store sells items like home decor, baby clothes, cotton candy, and jewelry from 15 different West Michigan creators. 

Credit: 13 OYS
People line up to be the first served Friday at Ronnie Mack's Hot Box Hash House.

"I wanted to work with other makers who have been affected this year," said Pheiffle, "as all of our craft shows and everything have been cancelled."

While festivals are on pause for now, Morse said the goal is to have this area be a center of attraction for future events. 

The other two shipping container shops are a thrift store and photography studio. 

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