The Tamaqua Area Chamber of Commerce is embarking on a new journey to provide a boost for a segment of the economy often overlooked.
Using available space inside its 114 West Broad Street headquarters, the Chamber will launch in January, 2013, a business incubator opportunity. The incubator is touted as a place for budding entrepreneurs who dabble in original products and other goods on a small scale or perhaps some existing businesses with a desire to venture into new products or enterprises.
"It's a micro-retail incubator for businesses that may not have a brick and mortar presence," says Linda Yulanage, executive director. "We are looking to give them an opportunity to establish themselves as a business."
The incubator will be called The Gift Gallery at the Chamber.
In and of themselves, business incubators aren't a new concept. Traditional incubator programs have been around for years, designed to support the successful development of entrepreneurial companies through an array of business support resources and services.
But what is different with the Tamaqua venture is that it's geared to creative folks dabbling in an area of expertise in which they haven't gotten up and running on a large scale.
"Most of the people who are here don't do this every day," explains Yulanavage, providing a tour of ten or so initiatives taking part in the first phases of the concept. Most are fairly new, one-person enterprises. However, there are a few exceptions.
For instance, one of the participants has been in business 88 years and is taking advantage of the current pilot stage of the project to delve into new things. The Charles X. Block store, Tamaqua, is venturing into a new line. The store is owned by Ralph and Jeanette Richards, Jim Thorpe, who took ownership last year.
"They have a reputation as a men's store," says Yulanavage. "But they've started a line of women's accessories, such as jewelry, handbags and scarves."
The business turned to the Chamber to help introduce the new line through a creative display at the incubator.
In another case, Carolyn Letzo of Carolyn's Quilt Shop is using incubator space to showcase quilts, which require a large surface area for display.
Letzo does have her own storefront on East Broad Street, but chose to utilize space at the Chamber in addition to her own shop in order to maximize visibility.
"Women take lessons there (at Carolyn's Quilt Shop) and Carolyn may not have the space to exhibit these pieces," explains Yulanavage.
For Jen Stianche, Tamaqua, the incubator will allow her to take her first step into everyday retail by displaying her gifts and handcrafted items, using the moniker "All Things Scrappy."
In a similar situation is Ben Turrano who excels at woodworking. But because many of Turrano's finished pieces are large, Turrano has never showcased them to the public.
The incubator is allowing him to feature on display one of his finished farm tables, an item for which he'll take orders.
Still another creative soul is Tamaqua resident Dennis Tamagini, a self-taught artist and native of Jersey City, NJ, who is displaying a variety of his unique paintings in his adopted hometown.
"I'm a very moody painter," says Tamagini, who isn't sure if he wants to focus on retail but wants to support the Chamber's initiative. In a clever twist, Tamagini's works are largely custom framed using discarded plaster lath taken from remodeling projects at early Tamaqua homes.
Tamagini says the display of his work is something new and he looks forward to the visibility and reaction.
That's the same sentiment Yulanavage expresses about the Gift Gallery at the Chamber.
"So far we've had good response," she says.
The intent is to encourage budding entrepreneurs. It is not a "craft fair," nor intended to incorporate the type of crafting activities seen, for example, at church bazaars.
The space utilized for the incubator is part of the former Gallery at the Tamaqua Area Chamber. The gallery space became available about a year ago when the Tamaqua Community Arts Center opened at 125 Pine Street in the former Salem Church. At that time, the Arts Center supplanted the Chamber Gallery as a venue for art displays and shows.
The first step in taking part in the incubator is to join the Chamber for a nominal fee, says Yulanavage. At that point, all Chamber benefits kick in, such as the option for health care benefits, retail space, use of the storefront window along US209, seminars, marketing opportunities such as promoting your business in social media outlets, "Chamber Chatter" newsletters, and other benefits.
Yulanavage says support services will be based on various facets of typical business start-up needs, such as instruction in accepting credit cards.
Yulanavage says the space is available for terms of six-months and participants can set up their own displays, although the Chamber will assist with creative aspects if desired.
The incubator and its services are available to the entire region, not only the Tamaqua area, she says. One does not need to be located in the immediate area to join the Chamber or take part, says Yulanavage.
"There are a lot of people out there would could use this opportunity," she says. "They may not be able to open a brick-and-mortar business."
More information is available at (570) 668-6899.