Pop-up Shops Launch a New Life For Historic Bethel Block

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Communities / Dec. 1, 2016 10:25am EST


Lisa Warhol and Sara Roberts welcome customers at Bethel’s Blossom Block. (Provided) Lisa Warhol and Sara Roberts welcome customers at Bethel’s Blossom Block. (Provided) What does it take to turn a vacant block into a bustling marketplace? Not much, as volunteers and local artisans are proving in downtown Bethel.

For years, Bethel’s historic downtown Blossom Block has sat mostly vacant and in need of major repairs. Once the site of the Black Forest Café, it will come alive again this holiday season with colorful pop-up storefronts, featuring the work of Bethel-area artisans and crafters.

Now under new ownership, the Blossom Block will soon undergo a major restoration in order to welcome a host of new permanent businesses to downtown Bethel. The transformation began the first weekend in October, when Bethel hosted the state’s first Better Block project—a three-day experiment to transform the downtown with po-pup stores, a temporary bike lane and street improvements, live music and a beer garden, and more. The event was a great success, drawing hundreds of visitors, many of whom set foot inside the Blossom Block and other downtown buildings for the first time ever.

“Better Block was a chance to test out ideas that could become permanent, and the pop-up shops were a huge win,” said co-organizer Lisa Sacks Warhol, a participating candy maker and member of the Bethel Revitalization Initiative, which organized Better Block and the holiday pop-ups. “They were so popular with shoppers and merchants alike, that local volunteers brought them back for the holiday season, giving local artisans a way to market their products locally.”

Warhol’s business, Sweet Gilead Confections, will sell handmade sweets in the pop-up shops this season. She’s joined by Two Potters’ wood-fired pottery; Ingredient L’s handmade wooden housewares, jewelry, and toys; Teal Emlyn Illustration’s greeting cards and giclée prints; Rocky Pasture Quilts’ handmade quilts and bags; and Bixiebean’s felted wool items.

The shops will be open weekends until December 18 (3–8 p.m. on Fridays, and 11 a.m.–8 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays), with an opening celebration this Saturday, Dec. 3 at 4 p.m.

The pop-up shops are also a win for local developer Kevin Barry, who recently purchased the Blossom Block and is now planning for its renovation. Barry owns the adjacent Lavere Block, and sees the pop-up shops as a critical chance to make use of the building before it is restored, but also to help promote the building’s future.

Barry intends to restore the historic building as a mixed-use space that fills unmet community needs. He’s currently considering a first floor market, third floor inn or rental rooms, and second floor office space; he is eager to hear from community members and potential tenants about what they would like to see in the space.

“The Blossom Block is a vital part of Bethel’s history, and I’m thrilled to help it become a vital part of Bethel’s future,” said Barry.

Learn more about the holiday pop-up shops at bethelrevitalizationinitiative.org.

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