News

Fairfax to launch retail store for nurturing local artisans, entrepreneurs

Fairfax City has been working to promote its downtown retail (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax City is browsing for makers of art, crafts and other products who want to expand beyond an online shop or farmers’ market stall but aren’t quite ready to commit to a full storefront.

Those are the budding entrepreneurs that the Fairfax City Economic Development team (FCED) hopes to attract to Wander In, an upcoming retail incubator store that the city is developing with the Old Town Fairfax Business Association (OTFBA).

Announced in September, the store is expected to launch this coming winter in Old Town Plaza, replacing Sylvan Learning’s tutoring center at 3950 University Drive, Suite 211.

“Establishing Wander In as a business incubator in our historic downtown plaza is an important step in building Fairfax City’s small business retail,” Mayor Catherine Read said in the press release. “It’s a path for our local artisans from online sales and festival participation to a brick and mortar presence. Located in close proximity to a free parking garage and three very busy restaurants with outdoor dining, this multi-vendor retail offers residents and visitors a reason to wander in.”

The FCED and OTFBA concocted the idea for Wander In after the city received a grant that it wanted to use to help small businesses grow, according to Tess Rollins, the business association’s executive director.

Initially, the economic development office suggested opening a temporary pop-up store, but the local business owners on OTFBA’s board of directors were wary of supporting a new business that could compete for customers and the association’s attention.

Rollins and the FCED then pitched the board on the concept of an incubator that would not only provide retail space for up-and-coming businesses, but also educational events and resources to give them the skills needed to be viable long-term — and potentially open a permanent brick-and-mortar location in the city.

“They were more receptive of basically helping…small businesses grow because each one of them has their own establishment, whether it’s a restaurant or a retail store,” Rollins said. “So, they felt that was more in line with the mission and the core values of Old Town Fairfax Business Association.”

Applications for prospective Wander In vendors are now being accepted. Vendors must stay in the space for at least three months, be OTFBA members, obtain a city business license after the first 30 days, and pay a $200 fee each month, along with 10% of sales.

Rollins says one of the initiative’s goals is to promote businesses in Fairfax City, but it’s also open to businesses and entrepreneurs based outside city limits.

“We do want to promote other businesses who may be looking for a place in Fairfax City to see if our community is a good place for them to have an additional location,” she told FFXnow.

At the moment, there’s no limit on how many vendors will be accepted, since the capacity will depend on how much room each business needs. While most will likely sell jewelry, paintings or other artisan goods, Rollins says prepackaged food vendors could be considered.

FCED and OTFBA worked with Old Town Plaza manager Kimco Realty to secure the suite, which is in the same building as the recently opened Commonwealth Brewing Co. With the pub Earp’s Ordinary also on the way, the shopping center’s revitalization is central to the city’s Old Town Fairfax Small Area Plan, which was adopted in 2020 and seeks to make the historic downtown more active and pedestrian-friendly.

To encourage collaboration between businesses and with the larger community, Wander In will work with George Mason University’s Small Business Development Center to assist and provide training to the vendors. It will also host events both inside the store, where customers can meet and learn from the vendors, and outside.

Rollins suggests shopping days or scavenger hunts that involve other Old Town retailers as possibilities.

“I love the idea of the mix of having retail shopping with a creative experience, whether it’s ‘Meet the Maker’ or whether it’s one of their classes,” Rollins said. “I think that having the combination of the two is going to bring something different to Old Town.”