For the next seven weekends, a once-vacant storefront in the 1600 block of Central Avenue will be transformed into a retail and cultural experience.

Marshallese Amimono will open tonight at 1643 Central Ave. and maintain a presence in the corridor throughout the holiday season.

Tilla Lati, the store’s operator, said it will sell a variety of crafts that have been imported from the Marshall Islands, including handbags, jewelry and home decor. Such crafts — which are referred to as “amimono” by the Marshallese — are an important part of the economy in Lati’s native country.

“They are all handmade,” she said. “For a lot of people back home, this is how they make their living.”

In addition to selling these crafts, the store will provide an interactive cultural experience to visitors.

Lati said it will offer classes on how to make Marshallese handicrafts. And on Saturday night, the space will host a traditional Marshallese dance presentation.

“I think it will let more people know about the Marshallese people in Dubuque,” said Lati.

The store’s opening coincides with the launch of Central Express, an initiative led by Dubuque Main Street featuring more than two dozen pop-up shops filling more than 10 storefronts between 1400 and 2300 Central Ave. throughout the holiday season.

Food, art, apparel, photography and craft vendors are among those featured. A full listing can be found at downtowndubuque.org/central-express/.

They will be open from 5 to 8 p.m. Fridays and noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays through Dec. 21.

Michaela Freiburger, a program specialist with Dubuque Main Street, said she believes the event will be a showcase for both the vendors and the corridor itself.

“This is an opportunity for entrepreneurs to try out Central Avenue,” she said. “Our goal is to fill these vacant storefronts with tenants.”

NEXT STEP

The Central Express marks the latest event in a multi-step effort to shine a spotlight on the corridor’s potential.

Last year, Dubuque Main Street hosted an event dubbed “Build a Better Block.” In conjunction with that event, multiple businesses filled empty Central Avenue storefronts for one week.

This year, the Central Express aims to take that concept one step further.

Freiburger said the temporary opening of stores will be augmented by a series of holiday events. On multiple weekends, for instance, a giant sleigh will be displayed outside of Key City Creative Center, 1781 White St., and children will have a chance to meet with Santa.

Customers can get holiday pictures taken at Lu Supply Co., a pop-up shop at 1645 Central Ave.

Trees and lights will spruce up the corridor, and red ribbons will be placed on the doors of each pop-up shop to alert residents to the businesses within.

Freiburger said the ultimate goal is for these temporary tenants to set up shop permanently within the Central Avenue corridor, which boasts the highest vacancy rate out of the 10 districts overseen by Dubuque Main Street.

In recent years, the corridor has seen signs of momentum.

An art studio, creative reuse center, billiards hall, cupcake shop and community retail space are among the entities that have opened their doors.

Freiburger hopes the Central Express will be a boon to these full-time businesses as well.

“This has been a hard year for many of them with the construction occurring (along Central Avenue),” Freiburger said. “We hope Central Express will give them a high volume of (customer) traffic coming through.”

CREATING ENERGY

More than 10 vendors will set up shop within a single building.

Julie Griffin will operate Merry Pop-In Shoppe at 2230 Central Ave. Her store will sell new, vintage and resale clothing.

She will be joined within the facility by other vendors offering paintings, honey, jewelry and other wares. Griffin said the structure at 2230 Central has been vacant for about eight years.

She is elated that a group of pop-up shops will be breathing new life into it.

“I think that coming into these buildings and bringing some new energy is a big part of what this is all about,” Griffin said.

In addition to hosting a wide variety of vendors, the building at 2230 Central also will boast a stage with live music from 1 to 3 p.m. each Saturday during Central Express.

Griffin believes the local artists will bring another dimension to the experience.

“Music is always important to me,” she said. “I think it will add to the atmosphere.”

Copyright, Telegraph Herald. This story cannot be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without prior authorization from the TH.