Author Archives: Neil Takemoto

Community Crowdsources Struggling Restaurant into Financial Success


Mike Clawson and his family knew their restaurant was heading toward the inevitable fate of closing shop, that is, until the local community jumped in to help crowdsource and crowdfund a new vision.

In 2009 Clawson realized his dream by purchasing a small brick and mortar restaurant on North Main Street in Bristol, Connecticut named the Tortoise & Hare Cafe. After purchasing the Cafe he thought he would maintain the restaurants following to capitalize on an existing customer base and to grow it, but he ran into issues he didn’t see coming.

After he purchased Tortoise he realized the business wasn’t as strong as anticipated, and the perception, he learned, was even worse. What he felt was a quaint establishment with a solid customer base came off as old and frumpy especially to younger folks. The southern flair that Clawson likes to cook with, wasn’t being communicated through the name of the restaurant, and on top it that, few people knew the restaurant even changed hands.

“It was probably my biggest regret, not changing the whole thing up, especially the name,” recalls Clawson.

By the time the Clawson family saw things were seriously wrong, their financial reserves were so low they couldn’t do anything about it.

Feeling as if he was chained to ball and about to sink to an eventual demise he sought help from Bristol Rising, a crowdsourced placemaking community using the CSPM System to assist in Bristol’s downtown revitalization effort.

“Tortoise had a major communications problem,” said Mark Walerysiak Jr, Bristol Rising’s Community Liaision. “He was doing good food with an interesting Southern twist, but there’s nothing about “Tortoise & Hare” that says that. It was time for a rebranding.”

So rebrand they did. Teaming with Bristol Rising, Clawson reached out to the group’s 2500 members for in-person brainstorming sessions and online surveys looking for new names, tag lines, decor, color schemes, and menu items. Finally, a concept was settled on—457 Mason Jar: Southern Food & Great Thymes.

The community was loving it. After all, they helped develop it. With a vested market in Clawson’s back pocket, all he needed was the money to make this dream happen.

Enter crowdfunding. Bristol Rising embarked on a crowdfunding campaign to rebrand Tortoise into 457 Mason Jar through Kickstarter, looking to raise $6500 in 20 days. The campaign reached it’s goal on the final day possible, Christmas Eve, to the tune of $7900. Needless to say, the Clawsons were thrilled.

However, the real test was yet to come. Would the crowd support the new restaurant they helped create? With the new name and personality to go along with a whole new look, 457 Mason Jar opened its doors on January 16 and immediately took the city by storm. Lines were out the door for dinners, and there was no longer any mistaking what the establishment was. Clawson’s personality now lined up with the brand.

And the proof was in the BBQ sauce. Comparing the 1st quarter of 2013 to the first quarter of 2014, 457 Mason Jar has seen a 42 percent increase in business. That’s despite the fact Mason Jar was closed for the first 15 days in January to prepare for their grand re-opening.

“We’re so thrilled. Honestly we thought we would be goners, but the community really rallied behind us and helped us realize our dream,” Clawson said. “For that, we’re forever grateful.”

As for the Bristol Rising community, the question is now, “Who’s next?”

For more info, contact:
Mark Walerysiak
Community Liaison
Bristol Rising/CSPM Group

Using ‘tactical urbanism’ for short-term action, long-term change

While CSPM Group is managing its crowdsourced placemaking programs within large-scale urban revitalization projects spanning multiple blocks, what can residents do in the immediate term beyond identifying their vision for the future?


Enter tactical urbanism.

Citizens across the country are initiating their own grassroots efforts in improving the livability of their neighborhoods and cities… today… now. From the book, Tactical Urbanism: Short-Term Action, Long-Term Change by The Streets Plan Collaborative, tactical urbanism is defined as:

“Improving the livability of our towns and cities commonly starts at the street, block, or building scale. While larger scale efforts do have their place, incremental, small-scale improvements are increasingly seen as a way to stage more substantial investments. This approach allows a host of local actors to test new concepts before making substantial political and financial commitments. Sometimes sanctioned, sometimes not, these actions are commonly referred to as “guerilla urbanism,” “pop-up urbanism,” “city repair,” or “D.I.Y. urbanism.” While exhibiting several overlapping characteristics, “tactical urbanism,” is a deliberate approach to city-making that features the following five characteristics:

• A deliberate, phased approach to instigating change;
• An offering of local ideas for local planning challenges;
• Short-term commitment and realistic expectations;
• Low-risks, with a possibly a high reward;
• The development of social capital between citizens, and the building of organizational capacity between”

The following ‘tactics’ have been used in CSPM Group projects:

  • Pop-Up Retail – Temporary stores in vacant spaces. Communities in Bristol, CT and Huntington Station, NY both hosted shared pop-up retail events, with multiple pop-ups under one roof. Both are advocating for a permanent space for pop-ups, like this space. The goal is to incubate permanent new storefront businesses.
  • Pop-Up Plazas – Bristol, CT’s crowdsourced placemaking community, Bristol Rising, hosted not one but two pop-up plaza events, demonstrating what a future piazza could be like for the downtown, attracting record crowds. See image above.
  • Park(ing) Day – Crowdsourcing parking spaces into ‘third places’ for a day. The Visualize Nashua community contributed and enjoyed their own Park(ing) Day creation to demonstrate better uses for parking spaces.
  • Pop-Up Town Hall – A non-government meeting space to discuss the future of one’s city. Every month, members from each CSPM Group community meet to discuss the future of their downtowns, without fail, and with a positive, often fun vibe. This ain’t your father’s public hearing.

There are myriad other ways CSPM Group communities can work with developers and municipalities to effect incremental change with immediacy, as described and illustrated in the Tactical Urbanism book::

  • Site Pre-Vitalization – Temporary activation of a development site, often using shipping containers.
  • Open Streets – Massive temporary street closures like Ciclovía and summer street closings in NY, SF. Open Streets Project.
  • Play Streets – Repurposing parking lots and streets from car usage to kid usage. Partnership for a Healthier America: Play Streets
  • Better Block – A weekend pop-up demonstration of what a main street could be, gone viral. The Better Block.
  • Pavement to Plazas – Transforming auto-oriented streets into pedestrian plazas. NYC Plaza Program, Pavement to Plazas initiative.
  • Intersection Repair – Transforming neighborhood street intersections into neighborhood squares, mainly via paint and street closures. City Repair: Intersection Repair.
  • Guerilla Gardening – Re-purposing underutilized lots for ‘social gardening’.
  • Pop-Up Parks – Transforming streetside parking spaces into micro parks. Park(ing) Day types of places, but for months. City of San Francisco: Pavement to ParksCity of NY: Street Seats.
  • Depave – Green city movement to remove unnecessary paving and replace with green spaces. Depave organization.
  • Park-Making – Reclaiming underutilized sites for parks.
  • Parkmobiles – Movable landscaped containers that can placed in a standard on-street parking space. Parkmobiles.
  • Chair Bombing – Homemade seating in public spaces “to improve comfort, social activity, and sense of place”. DoTank: Chair Bombing.
  • Informal Bike Parking – Non-government installed bike racks that are functional indications of where permanent bike parking is needed.
  • Ad-Busting – Removing and altering of billboards and large advertising signage. Ad busting on Tumblr.
  • Reclaimed Setbacks – Activating front yards to become more community-oriented.
  • Weed Bombing – Converting weed overgrowth into landscaped works of art. Weed bombing on Tumblr.
  • Food Carts/Trucks – Essentially pop-up cafes on wheels, prevalent in most every major city.
  • Mobile Vendors – Aka street vendors, and including bicycle vendors.
  • Micro-Mixing – Mixing multiple businesses in a single retail space, like a cafe, bar, bookstore, theater: Cooltown article.
  • Camps – Temporary occupying of space with intention of social change (i.e. Occupy movement), disaster relief, or experimentation/prototyping (Burning Man).

2013 Year in review for crowdsourcing a downtown in Huntington Station, NY

Here are the top ten accomplishments of Source the Station, a crowdsourced placemaking program in Huntington Station, Long Island, New York, with a mission of revitalizing its downtown.

1. Involving over 1400 members in the revitalization efforts on the website and beyond through the community’s efforts at events, monthly meet ups and social media.

2. Receiving over 107unique community-generated ideas, securing 11 feasibility studies as a result of providing evidence of market demand, and working with over 20 entrepreneurs on exploring, defining and developing their business ideas.

3. Helping get the first step of downtown development approvals, the Huntington Station Development Strategy, through community support and a 5-0 bipartisan council vote.

4. Transforming an empty commuter parking lot into Community Fest in March 2013 featuring over 25 nonprofits, businesses and community organizations, music from Huntington High School and local food vendors, churches and games.

5. Transforming Depot Road into a bustling pop-up Downtown with a vibrant street festival in July 2013, Source the Station organized a street festival with local business owners (BID) and Town of Huntington officials, attracting over 8000 people, a record event for the community. The event featured local artists, musicians, vendors, businesses and community members.

6. Gathering monthly for meet ups at local businesses and organizations to propel community-wide improvements, idea generation, and planning for all stages of the revitalization efforts.

7. Bringing member ideas that show strong support to fruition, like The Source Pop-Up Shop which offered ten local entrepreneurs and their “tiny businesses” to sell their items in a storefront in Huntington Station and gain valuable exposure and experience to help grow their businesses.

8. Hosting Source Socials and Source Mobs at local restaurants to promote eating and entertainment in local venues while also promoting the development of community including Huntington Station History Cafe at the Huntington Station Branch of the library featuring local historian Dr. Al Sforza.

10. Promoting entrepreneurship and small business development through the Chamber of Commerce, Huntington Station BID and Huntington Business Incubator, as well as hosting events like a “Small Business Real Estate Seminar” and our “Local Business Social.”

The work that has been done by the community in the last year through Source the Station and in the past has been tremendous. Check out the recap video for 2013 (above).


Bristol Rising Winter 2013 Update


The past couple of years have seen a tremendous amount of positive activity in regard to the redevelopment of Depot Square and Bristol’s downtown. Led by Master Developer Renaissance Downtowns and the Bristol Rising crowdsourced placemaking community initiated by CSPM Group, key approvals and rezoning efforts are complete, positioning Bristol’s downtown for transformative development.

From Ryan Porter, project manager for Renaissance Downtowns, “It’s been gratifying working with such a great community and a municipality that gets it. The Bristol Rising community’s response has been overwhelming in what has been one of the most transparent redevelopment efforts in this country’s history, a tradition we will work to continue with this column. This three-way collaborative was highlighted during the approval processes, which has led to the implementation phase of the project, and brings us to today.”

Renaissance has been working diligently to put the final pieces together in anticipation of the upcoming groundbreaking by finalizing financing for the initial phase of the development.

When Renaissance Downtowns was designated by the City of Bristol as Master Developer, numerous milestones were established for this public/private partnership. Due to the excellent working relationship between Renaissance Downtowns, the municipality and the Bristol Rising community, the initial concept planning and zoning milestones were achieved at an extraordinary pace. This accelerated process led to the approval of an engineered Site Plan for Phase 1 in February of 2013, along with the recent completion of the new McDonald’s in a manner that is consistent with the overall goals and objectives of the public/private partnership. Porter adds, “I have never before seen a municipality move the ball forward as has been done here, and as a result of the City’s desire to see progress occur, revitalization efforts are 6-8 months ahead of schedule.”

Renaissance is presently in discussions with multiple regional/national development firms as well as foreign and domestic private equity financing sources, demonstrate the economic viability of downtown Bristol in regard to innovative, mixed-use development. The overwhelming number of signed letters of interest from both local and regional residents expressing a desire to move into the new development downtown continues to assist those efforts.

On the community side, Bristol Rising has been programming and conducting innovative events and initiatives which have already added vibrancy to and awareness of downtown. They are currently working to improve the existing downtown business landscape by offering the power of crowd to businesses, the latest being the opening of 457 Mason Jar, a southern cuisine cafe. Every little bit is helping the overall cause in showing Bristol as a place that desires a walkable, vibrant center of commerce and social activity. This is proven by new entrepreneurs stepping forward each month expressing interest in opening businesses downtown.

Bristol Rising recap: March-April 2013

After three hearings with the Department of Public Works (DPW), the last signature to cap off the approval of the Site Plan was penned. In addition, McDonald’s is officially moving from the Riverside Avenue site. Renaissance also began conversations on a second set of zoning amendments for transition areas of downtown, including the West End, Summer Street and West Street, to create a more contiguous downtown experience consistent with a walkable urban environment.

Meanwhile, at 11 Summer Street, a local developer began construction on a new 6-unit residential building as the Summer Street residents celebrated their collective involvement in transforming (image above) what was formerly a dangerous, drug-ridden place into a safe, welcoming neighborhood.

At the end of April, 139 LOIs had been signed for residential units, with a goal of 150. 8 LOIs have been signed from prospective retailers.

In mid-March, the crowd put on a demonstration of crowdsourced placemaking applied to storefront business development when it supported Dawn McKenna’s Dawn’s Deli idea with 100 Likes in two days (a Bristol Rising record) and <a href=””>sold out a tasting event</a> (image below) with 100 tickets three weeks later in early April. That prompted Dawn to receive an offer to <a href=””>incubate her business within an existing venue, the Downtown Cafe</a> as she seeks to open her own place.