The city of Columbia is kicking off its second year of renting a historic one-room schoolhouse to artists, entrepreneurs and other retailers who want to open “pop-up” shops.
Officials see it as a way for people who own online businesses or brick-and-mortar stores in other locations to test the Monroe County market. It also gives the public a taste of local history and keeps the former Shoemaker School, built in 1867, from sitting vacant.
“People sign a license agreement to use it for anywhere from five to 33 days,” said Sue Spargo, community relations and tourism coordinator. “They pay $5 per day, and that goes to a Columbia not-for-profit of their choice.”
The city owns the schoolhouse at 6 Gall Road in Stone Arch Park, near the intersection of Main Street and Illinois 3. Two vendors are renting it this holiday season.
The first shop, called Ever Vi Boutique, will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 21-24, 27, 29 and 30 and Dec. 1. There will be a “sip-and-shop” event with wine and giveaways from 4 to 8 p.m. Nov. 22.
Owners Andrea Gray, of Troy, and Kim Farris-Wilson, of Festus, Missouri, created an online store about a year ago to sell women’s clothing and accessories. Their theme is “moving forward and dreaming without fear.”
“It’s very reasonable to rent (the schoolhouse), and it allows us to see what it would be like to have a brick-and-mortar store,“ said Gray, who also works full time as a manager at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.
Second vendor is oil painter
Another business, Linda J. Paintings and Holiday Boutique, will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 4-7, 11-14, 18-21 and 25-28. Owner Linda Stevens plans to sell oil paintings, Christmas ornaments, wine totes, aprons, table runners and other hand-sewn items and floral arrangements by her sister, Gayle Gilmore.
Stevens has been teaching the Bob Ross technique of oil painting for 30 years.
“I’m retired from (Southwestern Illinois College), but I still teach at Hobby Lobby in South St. Louis County,” she said. “I just closed my shop in Dupo.”
The original Shoemaker School was a log structure built in 1851 by farmer and doctor Hammond Shoemaker. It was replaced with the brick schoolhouse 16 years later. Columbia School District closed it in 1951, and it later became a private residence.
Local preservationists had the building moved from Gilmore Lake Road to Gall Road in 1992 to keep it from being demolished with the widening of Illinois 3. Today, it stands next to an arched stone bridge that was part of the historic Kaskaskia-Cahokia Trace.
Welcome center for five years
The city of Columbia eventually acquired and renovated the schoolhouse, which operated as a Monroe County welcome center and museum from 2011 to 2016. Officials apparently felt it wasn’t reaching its full potential.
“When it was a welcome center, people just weren’t going in there,” Spargo said. “They could get their information online. Our city council wanted people to go in and see the historic building.”
Workers converted the schoolhouse into a space for pop-up shops last year, removing antique desks and installing a retail counter. Two vendors rented it during the 2018 holiday season, and a third operated for two months last summer, getting permission to exceed the 33-day maximum.
During the schoolhouse’s first pop-up year, more than 1,800 people stopped in, according to Spargo. That’s compared to 128 visitors in 2016, the last year the building served as a welcome center and museum.
“We surpassed our goals,” Spargo said.
‘Win, win’ for Belleville store
“They had the whole outside lit up for Christmas, and we had a Christmas tree and played Christmas music,” said Conni Tilley, owner of Rising Stars. “It was a very, very cute set-up.”
Tilley called the pop-up experience a “win-win situation.” Some customers who discovered Rising Stars in Columbia now make the drive to Belleville.
A vendor must have a tax identification number to rent the schoolhouse and pay a non-refundable $50 cleaning fee and refundable $250 damage deposit. An application can be found at www.popupshopcolumbiaillinois.com. For more information, call Spargo at 618-281-7144, ext. 134.
“We may have vendors who decide they want to open businesses in Columbia, so it could also spur economic development,” she said.