Nearly 50 businesses will debut at a new location - or even for the first time - on Friday, when an old department store will be reborn as an indoor Mesa marketplace.
POOL Together will open after months of effort to establish a marketplace that's aiming to be upscale and to distance itself from the image of a flea market.
Pool has been extremely selective when signing leases to ensure the market has a character unlike any other marketplace in Arizona, said Skyler Hynes, a longtime retail consultant and POOL co-founder. That's meant screening tenants not just for what they sell, but how they sell it.
The market has guidelines for signs, the décor of each space and even how the items are displayed. Leases are only given to merchants who are committed to working full time while building a new business or expanding.
"We're not a hobby shop here," Hynes said. "We're more like a business incubator."
POOL will open with about 44 shops, including eateries. Several merchants have moved their home-based businesses to small booths in the marketplace, while others have established operations they've taken there. The range includes home décor, a barber shop, jewelers, computer services, clock repair, a florist and eateries.
The marketplace is opening in an early 1970s building that housed a Mervyn's department store until that chain folded. Work is still continuing to update the building and to fully lease the space. POOL's operators decided to open in summer so they could fine-tune it during a slow time but also because tenants were starting to set up in the building's 40,000 square feet.
"Ideally having a grand opening in the fall would be great, but a lot of these businesses are just aching to get going," Hynes said.
By the fall, POOL expects to improve a barren parking lot into a more inviting scene with trees, sidewalks and other features.
The renovation on the northeast corner of Main Street and Stapley Drive is one of the few bright spots in that part of Mesa. Stores have been closing for years along Main and little new life has returned.
That has made POOL far more significant to many merchants from the area, such as Alexis Weaver. She moved to Los Angeles nine years ago but is opening a store with her mother. Weaver said she wouldn't have thought of opening a business in this area if she hadn't been from here. But she recalled how some new shops took a risk by opening in downtown Mesa 10 years ago and have proven successful as that area has shown some improvement.
Weaver sees potential to revive Main because of the lack of stores for the stable neighborhoods north of the street.
"You wouldn't really realize it driving through, but there's a lot of established families here," Weaver said.
Her ReGenerations will sell home décor, gifts and clothing.
Josh Krize is opening E Main Street Café, stumbling onto the idea after his passion for roasting coffee beans generated requests to roast up batches for people he knew. He began making money and decided to quit his bank job after others praised his coffee.
"Friends and family were like, ‘You need to open your own shop and roast coffee,'" Krize said.
Marco Meraz said he's been planning to open a restaurant someday, but POOL made it happen faster because start-up costs are much lower than in a more traditional space.
He moved to New York to study the industry and is opening República Empanada. He believes his eatery is the first in the Valley to specialize in a kind of stuffed pastry that is a popular delicacy in Latin cultures. He also grew up in the area and is excited to see new businesses opening.
"We take exceptional pride in this place," he said.
POOL has a different character than Fiesta Marketplace, a lower end venue that closed in west Mesa last month. Many of the stores featured homemade signs and many shops were cluttered.
Part of the lease at POOL includes consulting with tenants to have a more inviting feeling, Hynes said.
"It's not about them versus us," he said. "It's about what's going to be successful. You need to let us help you. Most people are great with that."
And to draw more people, a major part of POOL is a living space were the Desert Rose theater troupe will now call home. Also, the space is available for performances, classes and competitions.
POOL will be open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays. Food tenants may have extended hours.
If You Go
What: POOL Marketplace opening celebrations
When: VIP party from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. today. Grand opening 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday.
Where: 1240 E. Main St., Mesa