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Contests to kick-start downtown retail


Two separate-but-similar competitions are pitting entrepreneurs against each other with the goal of bringing retail to downtown Rochester. The reward in both cases is one year of rent-free space downtown.

Downtown Rochester is experiencing a housing boom, but retail has been slow to follow; residents often complain that there's no quick or easy way to obtain basic goods and services.

Both competitions draw inspiration from the TV reality show "Shark Tank," where entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to a panel of investors.

The winner of "Retailent Rochester" -- the name is a portmanteau of "retail" and "talent" -- will fill a storefront on St. Paul Street in downtown's St. Paul Quarter in one of three buildings owned by Hive Properties. The size and location of the space will be determined by the type of business that wins the competition. A bakery, for example, would require different space than a microbrewery.

Applications for Retailent Rochester are being accepted now, and the deadline is September 30. There is no entry fee. The top 10 ideas will be invited to a pitch night and given 10 minutes to present their concepts.

The top three will go before a panel of judges on December 1, and the winner will be announced on December 15.

In addition to the free rent, the winner will get a package of professional services and help in raising money to kick-start the business.

If the competition is successful, organizers may provide assistance to some of the other finalists to help them get their businesses off the ground, says Noah Morgenstern, managing developer at Hive Properties.

The competition is a collaboration between Hive Properties, Rochester Local Capital, Steinmetz Planning Group, and Rochester Young Professionals. More information:

The winner of the second competition, "Race for the Space," will get 5,000-square-feet of custom-designed retail space at 127 East Avenue, and the space will be equipped with everything the winner needs to get started, says Gayle Jagel, founder and CEO of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy.

The other contest partners are DHD Ventures, Buckingham Properties, St. John Fisher College, the City of Rochester, Monroe County, Rochester Downtown Development Corporation, and the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation.

There is a $495 entry fee, because contest organizers want entrepreneurs to understand that this is not a handout, Jagel says. The contest is for entrepreneurs age 18 or older in the retail, food, or beverage industries.

Though the first year is rent-free, the winner must sign at least a two-year lease, according to contest rules.

Interested people must apply online at before midnight on Monday, September 14. The applications will be reviewed and the entrepreneurs will work with industry experts to hone their pitches before appearing before a panel of judges in early October.

The winning business will be revealed at an opening celebration on Black Friday, Sunday, November 28.

A second Race for the Space is in the planning stages. Organizers say that Buckingham Properties will donate three additional retail spaces next year.

Jagel says she knew about Retailent Rochester, but that the contests shouldn't get in each other's way. The more efforts under way to invigorate retail downtown, the better, she says.