After 12 years of looking after her four children full-time, Gwen Rosenberg decided to use her homemade popcorn recipes to get back into the workforce.
The result was Popped!, the newly opened popcorn store located in the rapidly growing Acorn Alley II development. Following a soft opening on Jan. 31, Rosenberg is currently planning a ribbon-cutting ceremony with the Kent Chamber of Commerce. Rosenberg has not yet set a date for the ceremony, but she said it will be scheduled “soon.”
In the meantime, Kent residents and popcorn enthusiasts from across the region can visit the shop to sample the variety of caramel and kettle corn available for purchase. Rosenberg said all her recipes use locally produced and purchased ingredients, and even offers vegan options.
“It’s really important to me to source all my ingredients locally,” Rosenberg said. “With the movement now to shop locally, it’s contagious.”
With her children entering the Kent school system, Rosenberg began looking into options for supplementing her household’s income. However, her 12-year stint as a stay-at-home mother meant her career prospects were less than promising. As a long-time fan of home-popped kettle and caramel corn, she saw a chance to try her hand at entrepreneurship.
“I was kind of at the point in my life where the kids were getting older and raising four kids on a single income is a feat,” Rosenberg said. “So I was getting back in the workforce…but having been out of work for 12 years, my job prospects were pretty slim. So the idea of starting a business using this caramel corn recipe seemed less risky and kind of like a better avenue for me than going back to school or trying to get a job that would cover child care.”
After posting her idea to Kickstarter.com, a community site where aspiring small business owners can seek funding for their projects, Rosenberg gathered capital with which to purchase her own full-sized popcorn popper. However, it wasn’t until she met with Acorn Alley proprietor and urban developer Ron Burbick that the Popped! project got off the ground.
“I just picked up the phone and called to see if I could schedule an appointment to meet with (Burbick) and he was gracious enough to allow me the opportunity to… just sit down and talk to him,” Rosenberg said. “I brought him some samples of the popcorn and some sample ideas of how I would want to package it, and based on that, he had some space available that he was willing to rent for me.”
Most other landlords would have been hesitant to rent to someone with Rosenberg’s background, but Burbick was interested in the investment nonetheless.
“The fact that Ron Burbick was willing to agree to rent me space… there’s a lot of other places out there that would have demanded a lot more capital up front,” Rosenberg said. “I really don’t believe there’s a whole lot of other landlords out there who would have been willing to take a chance and provide me the opportunity.”
Kent City Manager Dave Ruller shares Burbick’s enthusiasm for local vendors. Ruller said he is confident Popped! will appeal strongly to both students and Kent residents.
“It’s also a small mom-and-pop type of operation, it isn’t a big chain,” Ruller said. “Kent continues to make a statement that there’s nothing against chains, but there’s plenty of chains around, so why not work hard to promote small locally owned shops and this is a great example of that. I know Mr. Burbick has made that a priority in creating his leases.”
Rosenberg said her store has seen substantial support not only from Burbick himself, but from neighboring Acorn Alley business owners.
“The other business owners in and around Acorn Alley are so encouraging and positive, and they’ve been so supportive, that I really appreciate,” Rosenberg said. “Turning the ‘open’ sign around and being on the other side of the counter is a really intimidating prospect. It’s a little bit of a head trip. You go from being the customer to the business owner and the buck always stops with you as the owner.”
The Acorn Alley development has seen many openings as well as a few closings, including the Dancing Beta sushi restaurant. Ruller said these closings are unfortunate but inevitable in most retail situations. He hopes to see the Acorn Alley businesses thrive, but said that this success hinges upon support from the Kent populace.
“It’s not that unusual in retail situations to see some come and some go,” Ruller said. “It’s great when people chase their dreams but it doesn’t always work. The good news is they’ve got a landlord in Mr. Burbick who really does work with them and doesn’t want to see them fail. At the end of the day, it’s great that all these stores are being built, but now we’ve got to support them.”
Roughly two weeks after her store’s soft opening, Rosenberg said she is pleased with the attention and business Popped! has received. She counts herself lucky to have the opportunity to prove herself as a small business owner.
“I’m just a tremendously lucky person, that’s kind of how it happened,” Rosenberg said.
Contact Conner Howard at [email protected]