San Juan College and the city of Farmington are working to start a retail business incubator at 119 West Main Street, downtown Farmington on Tuesday.
San Juan College and the city of Farmington are working to start a retail business incubator at 119 West Main Street, downtown Farmington on Tuesday. (Jon Austria/The Daily Times)
FARMINGTON — San Juan College and city of Farmington officials are working to establish a retail business incubator downtown.

Backers say the incubator would give small businesses a place to start and boost downtown revitalization efforts.

"We're looking for businesses that can either serve the downtown community or will bring people to the downtown community, which is why we think specialty shops make sense," said Judy Castleberry, interim director of the San Juan College Enterprise Center.

Early ideas for the downtown retail business incubator include a specialty clothing store, a copy shop, an art gallery and a trophy and engraving store.

A coffee shop could anchor the location, Castleberry said. Downtown has been without a coffee shop since Andrea Kristina's Bookstore Kafe closed in December.

A city-owned building is available to house the incubator. The historic building at 119 W. Main St. was donated to the city government in December 2011 by Betsy and Kevin McCord after they moved their clothing store, M. Moose, to east Farmington.

The city has not found a use for the building since it was donated. Efforts to solicit proposals to use the building yielded little of substance, city officials said.

The building has about 3,100 square feet of usable space on the ground floor, enough for six businesses, Castleberry said.

Rent from tenants is expected to cover a significant portion of operating expenses. Staff from the college's Enterprise Center and Small Business Development Center will help run the new incubator.

"We're not hiring someone. We're stretching available resources," Castleberry said.

Farmington's existing business incubator, the Enterprise Center, is poorly suited for hosting retail shops, Castleberry said. It's on campus in a large office building, and lacks visible storefronts.

Downtown has long suffered from vacancies as businesses — both new and established — landed in east Farmington, a more recently developed area of town anchored by Animas Valley Mall and several big-box retailers.

A lingering public drunkenness problem and a lack of entertainment options has done little to lure businesses downtown. Instead, a concentration of short-term loan shops has moved in.

"I'd love to see another restaurant or other kind of entertainment venue in downtown, but the retail business incubator is an intriguing idea," said Mayor Tommy Roberts. "We know business incubation works."

Several of the Enterprise Center's companies have graduated from the program and moved to larger locations. Castleberry hopes an approach that has been successful with industrial companies will translate to retailers.

"We're hoping they'll all graduate and move on to bigger and better things," she said. The incubator "is a place to start."

Tenants in the downtown incubator would be required to remain open a minimum number of hours and to participate in incubator programs such as workshops. Rent has not been determined, but it will be on the low end of market rates, Castleberry said.

The city's Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency recently approved allocating $50,000 to start the incubator. That expenditure must be approved by the City Council, which is tentatively slated to consider the matter on May 14.

Castleberry said Farmington's downtown can again be an important part of city life.

"I'm local and I can remember when downtown was really the heart of town," she said. "Not that it's ever going to be like it was, but we want downtown to be a vital part of town (and) get away from the empty storefronts and all that."

The incubator could open this summer if the Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency's allocation is approved and business recruitment is successful, Castleberry said.

Chuck Slothower can be reached at cslothower@daily-times.com; 505-564-4638. Follow him on Twitter @DTChuck