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In the world of small retail, foot traffic is king. In Minneapolis, the ideal real estate for small businesses hoping to increase critical exposure is looking up. Literally.

Floating above Minneapolis’ busiest downtown streets is the Minneapolis Skyway System, the largest, contiguous system of enclosed, second level bridges on the planet. With 9.5 miles of pathways connecting 80 city blocks, the skyway not only offers a safer route for pedestrians to navigate the City’s bustling downtown, but also provides welcomed shelter from some of winter’s coldest months.

So, when leaders of the Minneapolis Downtown Council’s Intersections: The Downtown 2025 Plan got together to brainstorm initiatives that would foster inclusive downtown economic growth, they looked upwards to a handful of empty skyway retail spaces along several blocks of Minneapolis’ popular Nicollet Avenue.

This April, the planning group launched Chameleon Consortium, a pop-up retail initiative focused on providing one of a kind retail exposure for minority- and women-owned businesses.

On Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays through April 26th between Nicollet Avenue’s Fifth and 10th street intersections, 50 pop-up Chameleon Shoppes are offering products and services ranging from food and snacks to candles, art, woodworking, jewelry, apparel and more.

“There are a lot of different businesses in Minnesota,” Said Umar Ahmed, a small business-owner and Chameleon Shoppes participant who spoke with MPR earlier this month while 2019 Final Four festivities were in full swing. “There are a lot of entrepreneurs out there from different backgrounds and to be here to represent those backgrounds means a lot to us.”

Today, the skyway system caters to hundreds of familiar retail brands and services as well as small, independently-owned shops. We’re talking 140+ food options alone, ranging from national chains like Chipotle to Bep Eatery’s Vietnamese cuisine. Whatever you’re looking for (even dry-cleaning), chances are you’ll find it somewhere in the skyway.

And now thanks to Chameleon Shoppes, downtown workers, visitors and shoppers can use their buying power for good helping small, independently-owned businesses find their footing in one of the region’s most sought-after retail marketplaces. Not to mention offering another unique, experiential shopping experience for system users, as well as products you might not be able to find anywhere else — at Ahmed’s shop, he’ll be selling sustainable bamboo toothbrushes.

The move is innovative, but also reflects the City of Minneapolis’ long-time value of welcoming diverse businesses to the skyway’s high-traffic pathways and across the region at large. Supporting minority- and woman-owned businesses is not only central to 2025 visions for Downtown Minneapolis, but also aligns closely with the focus of BE MSP, Make It. MSP.’s initiative targeted at collaborative efforts to boost and promote professionals and entrepreneurs of color around the region.

Even better, benefits of the program are mutual. These business owners who may not have otherwise had a chance to stake their claim downtown will help breathe life back into areas of the skyway that have remained vacant following departures from large retailers. “Chameleon Shoppes is about incubating small business and offering a chance for local makers to gain new exposure,” said Dan Collison, Director of Downtown Partnerships at the MPLS Downtown Council. “Our mission is to revitalize downtown space with incredible offerings while helping these local businesses thrive.”

The more we can learn from programs like Chameleon Consortium and the Chameleon Shoppes, the better we can serve as stewards of a dynamic, inclusive Minneapolis’ business community. Want to get involved? Chameleon Consortium offers a deeper dive into the retailers, activities planned, and mission of the organization at www.chameleonshoppes.com.