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The power of partnerships: Engaging communities through retail incubator shops

Wold Team

At Wold, we’re committed to making a difference in the communities we serve. As a result, strong relationships and partnerships are often built with our clients because, ultimately, people are at the heart of everything we do. Our relationship with McHenry Community High School District 156 began in 2018. Over the last five years, we’ve worked alongside the district on various initiatives, including our collaboration on the new Center for Science, Technology and Industry addition to the McHenry Community High School’s Upper Campus. This strong partnership led to district and high school staff approaching the Wold team with an exciting and unique new opportunity to continue our support of the community.

In 2021, Wold was asked to help shepherd the design process for the new McHenry Riverwalk Shoppes, a retail incubator program that provides physical retail experience to businesses ready to take on the challenge of operating a brick-and-mortar location. With the option to rent either a 12’x12’ or 12’x16’ tiny shop, select businesses can “try out” a physical shop without the full commitment of running a store, all while receiving business support and mentoring from the McHenry Area Chamber, the City of McHenry and other shop owners.

Both our team and the McHenry Community High School District 156 saw this as a great opportunity to engage local students in the process. They assisted in designing and contributing to the construction of the tiny shops alongside industry professionals. In total, 10 staff members and over 60 students from the high school participated in the project, from creating graphics, designs and marketing to hands-on engineering and construction.

Wold’s own designer, Jonathan Kuzynowski, dedicated his time and expertise to work with the business owners, community partners and students, including his own son, to help bring these tiny shops to life. With any new initiative, there are many lessons to be learned and shared for other organizations wanting to strengthen local partnerships and further engage the communities in which they work, live and play. We’re sharing a few of our top takeaways from this experience below:

The power of expanding client partnerships

When taking on any new project, it’s impossible to know exactly what the outcome will be. Our team identified this as an excellent opportunity to deepen our partnership with the client in a unique way, highlighting our varied design experience while creating a positive impact on the community.

Projects like these serve as a great example of the crucial need to continue to build and strengthen client relationships. McHenry Community High School District 156 and the City of McHenry trusted our team to partner with them on this experience due in large part to the quality of work we’ve provided over the last five years. Thanks to the dedication and service of our team, we were able to further strengthen our partnership with the County and hope to continue to do so.

The importance of strengthening community ties

The Riverwalk Shoppes project goes far beyond architecture design. For our team, this process was about helping support and engage the community in a new way. Over 924 volunteers spent time working alongside our team, helping to design, market and construct the shops. The project brought people together, creating new friendships, partnerships and support systems across different industries and generations within the region.

Now a focal point for the community - complete with a green space and band area - the Riverwalk Shoppes not only support local entrepreneurs but provide an economic development boost and viable tourism attraction for the City of McHenry.

The joy of involving the next generation

At Wold, each team member is eligible and encouraged to participate in a Wold Community Service Day, allowing one day off to serve an organization of their choosing. Jonathan chose this opportunity to take his son Lincoln and help build the tiny shops alongside other volunteers from the high school, Habitat for Humanity and the City Parks Department. As a father, it was a rewarding experience to see his child’s skills put to work, using a hammer drill and putting in foundation bolts to help build the structures.

The project truly involved the whole community and allowed for an opportunity to invest in the future generation of designers and builders. In fact, the Riverwalk Shoppes are made up of ten pop-up shops - some of which are run by current and former students. We’re proud to not only help strengthen community ties but to create pathways for those who will one day lead the industry.

The Riverwalk Shoppes project has been a source of learning and inspiration. We are proud to have helped make a difference in many lives and businesses in the city, and we look forward to more opportunities to make a lasting impact in the communities we serve. This project serves as a testament that when you invest in client partnerships and put people at the center of your work, creating meaningful, enduring and transformative change is possible.

If you’d like to discuss how your next community-impact project can be designed, contact us today. Our team will answer any questions you may have and provide resources you need to make your next project a reality. You can reach our team at 1-888-254-6780.

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(L-R): Dan Rohman, McHenry County High School Woodworking Instructor); Carl Vallianatos (McHenry County High School Assistant Superintendent); Lincoln Kuzynowski and Jonathan Kuzynowski (Wold Designer)
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