The Coop, North Manchester’s New Business Incubator

By: INPUT Fort Wayne

Second Fridays in downtown North Manchester are a time for celebration and excitement around the small but entrepreneurial town. People come out to enjoy the summer nights and explore the different businesses on Main Street. And now, a new organization plans to add even more to explore downtown by creating the ultimate business hub and mini-mall for residents to enjoy on Second Fridays and every other day of the week.

The Coop is slated to be a business hub that offers space and resources for those looking to start a business or for small businesses looking to grow. The project started in 2022 as an effort to help stir more growth for all downtown businesses that suffered from less foot traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Outside The Coop in Downtown North Manchester.
A rendering of The Coop.

“Some businesses were struggling due to reduced traffic or other issues brought on by COVID,” says Heather Cruz, executive director of Manchester Alive, the organization behind The Coop.  “They needed a place to step back that had less barriers to entering the market. The Coop makes it possible for anyone like a mom’s home business, a student is trying their hand at entrepreneurship, or even allowing businesses from surrounding areas to see if their products or services are a match to the Manchester market.”

Manchester Alive is the product of combining the Main Street organization and the Chamber of Commerce, which happened in 2019.

“It came to a point where they felt that for our small town, it worked better with both organizations working as one to help the community and businesses from all sides,” Crux explains.

The Coop is one of their biggest investments yet. Cruz explains they believe in the project so deeply, that they sold their own building to help put money down on the building and renovations that will become The Coop this June.

Inside The Coop in Downtown North Manchester.
Illustrations showing what Manchester Alive envisions for the future of The Coop’s storefronts.

“We want everyone to know that we believe in this and are in it for the long haul,” she says. “We believe in it so strongly we put our own skin in the game too.”

The building, which is set to open on June 14 of this year, is two stories with 4,400 square feet on each floor. Not only will it house Manchester Alive but it is promised to have eight individual retail units and nine remote coworking offices. The spaces will vary in size and price depending on the needs of the entrepreneur. To increase the affordability for small businesses, prices range from $200 to $450 depending on the size.

“We want to lower those barriers,” Cruz explains. “Not make it so hard. A business doesn’t need $900 a month for rent and utilities. We want to make it easier for them.”

The idea is that any business has the opportunity to bring their business into downtown North Manchester at a lower risk and without the barriers of having high rental costs, worrying about building maintenance or trying to do it alone. Small businesses, instead, can make a smaller investment to test the market in North Manchester through a six-month to one-year lease.
“If you buy a building and HVAC goes out or it floods, that is on you,” Cruz says. “That’s a barrier. That’s all included with us. In lease terms, we’d like six months to a year to really give the business a shot at really going for it.”

Inside The Coop in Downtown North Manchester.
Illustrations showing what Manchester Alive envisions for The Coop’s offices.

Cruz goes on to explain that the hope is that The Coop will act as a mini mall and promote more foot traffic downtown which will then overflow to the other businesses on Main Street. The Coop will also be a networking and educational hub for all the businesses in North Manchester to network and learn from.

“All our support services are free to the tenants and all established business owners as well,” she says.

The Coop plans to offer classes every month to help the businesses in North Manchester be successful. Those classes will include having experts come in and discuss taxes, marketing strategies, financial systems, and other issues many business owners face. As they prepare to launch, The Coop is networking and planning partnerships with local companies and organizations to help provide these resources.

“We want our businesses to grow up and fly the coop,” Cruz says. “Just like an actual chicken and an incubator, we want them to outgrow us and get the skills they need to move on from us.”

As they grow businesses at The Coop, Cruz says they hope to continue expanding their network of experts who can come back and help beginning businesses that are in the same place they once were.

Inside The Coop in Downtown North Manchester.
The Coop under construction

Many businesses and organizations within the community have been extremely supportive and excited to see the progress on The Coop come to fruition. Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch says, “The addition of this space to North Manchester has tremendous upside for entrepreneurs and community members alike,” in a press release about the new organization.

Adam Penrod, the town manager, added, “As a municipal government, we support Manchester Alive not only financially in growing businesses but also encourage the organization to help entrepreneurs getting started in the local market.”

The community sees that this project is not just about the businesses The Coop is helping foster, but that it is helping all the businesses in North Manchester grow. From an increase in foot traffic to offering classes from experts that businesses at every level can benefit from, The Copp offers the entire town the benefit of growing together.

The Coop is currently focused on its efforts of fundraising through a crowdfunding campaign to raise $50,000 before the beginning of April.

“It’s about getting the community involved and involved in understanding what The Coop is and you know, those $5, $10, $100 donations are amazing and so appreciated,” Cruz explains.

If Manchester Alive can reach its goal by the deadline, the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA) will match the donation amount through a CreatINg Places Program Grant. The money will allow Manchester Alive to help ensure the best possible atmosphere and facility.

“I really believe we have a community that believes in the rest of the community,” Cruz says.

Inside The Coop in Downtown North Manchester.
Illustrations showing what Manchester Alive envisions for The Coop’s conference room.

To learn more about The Coop, or to apply for one of the spaces at The Coop, Executive Director Heather Cruz is available via email or at 260-982-7644.

Follow Manchester Alive for updates on The Coop, including its opening in June, on Facebook or Instagram.

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