Charleston Int’l Sweetens Retail Lineup with Kiosk Program

Charleston County Aviation Authority
Nicole Nelson
Published in: 

Thanks to a new specialty leasing program that debuted at Charleston International Airport (CHS) this spring, customers can now purchase a sampling of local and regional goodies and gifts at small kiosks inside the airport terminal. 

The Charleston County Aviation Authority launched the program to provide short-term, low-risk lease opportunities to help incubate small, independent merchants. Four entrepreneurs with decidedly sweet business concepts are the first participants: Daddy’s Girls Bakery, King Street Cookies, Mama Chef Cuban Café and LMM Dolls & Gifts.  

Each vendor signed a six- or 12-month renewable lease and pays the aviation authority base rent of $500 or $750 per month (depending on kiosk size) or 11.5% of gross sales, whichever is greater. Kiosk sizes start at 16 square feet. 


Project: Specialty Leasing Program/Retail Kiosks

Airport: Charleston (SC) Int’l Airport

Operator: Charleston County Aviation Authority

Consultant: Jacobsen|Daniels 

Contract Vendors: Daddy’s Girls Bakery; King Street Cookies; LMM Dolls & Gifts; Mama Chef Cuban Café

Kiosk Size: 16 sq. ft., plus a small, undefined operating area

Operating Terms: 6- or 12-month renewable lease; vendor pays airport base rent of $500 or $750 per month (depending on kiosk size) or 11.5% of gross sales, whichever is greater. 

Opening Date: April/May 2018

Airport Executive Director and CEO Paul G. Campbell Jr., who also concurrently serves as a South Carolina senator, is a personal fan of the new kiosks. The very morning of his interview for this story, he visited the Caribbean-influenced Mama Chef Cuban Café for a pastry. “When I was walking by, I just couldn’t help myself,” he quips, adding that the Cuban sandwiches are “to die for.” 

The new airport concession is an offshoot of a food truck that developed a strong following roving Lowcountry street corners. The owner had also catered airline employee functions. 

Campbell has also been known to stop by Daddy’s Girls Bakery for an iconic Charleston Chewie, a “melt-in-your-mouth” brown sugar brownie, and purchase artisan souvenirs from LMM Dolls & Gifts. 

“King Street Cookies are fabulous for a nice afternoon break,” he adds. 

Together, the companies are just the kind of local small businesses that Campbell and other CHS executives hope to mentor through the specialty retail program. 

Taste of Charleston

The airport hired Jacobsen|Daniels, a consulting firm it has worked with in the past, to assist with development and implementation of the new retail program. Managing Consultant Carla Nelson Chambers says that the team’s overall goal was to bring the local flavor of Charleston and the region to the airport.

“There was nothing that really said, ‘Welcome to Charleston,” Chambers recalls. “Normally, you get that in food and certain local retail products.”

The specialty leasing program was developed in October 2017 to provide that local presence and supplement existing food and beverage concessionaire Delaware North and retail specialist Hudson Group. Chambers describes the complementary kiosk concessions as a win-win because CHS customers gain access to culturally oriented regional products, and small area businesses benefit from the unique customer base only an airport environment can provide. 

“This is a pilot program with small, local merchants who have never done business with an airport with all its unique rules and regulations,” she explains. “We are working with them to give them and businesses like them the opportunity to succeed in the bustling airport environment. 

“Some of the products are really unique to Charleston and others are small and local to Charleston; so it’s a win-win for them and the airport customers.”  

Short-Term, Low-Risk 

The kiosks, officially known as retail merchandising units, are positioned in high-visibility locations throughout the terminal and require start-up capital of less than $15,000. Not surprisingly, the initial request for proposals generated applications from “a plethora of local companies.”

Chambers and Sharon McGhee, CHS’ lead on Community Relations, conducted the initial outreach. Each of the four businesses that secured a coveted spot at the airport took different paths to get there.

Nathaniel Brown of Daddy’s Girls Bakery learned about the kiosk program from a client whose sister runs the Diversity Advancement Alliance, a non-profit organization that helps small minority- and women-owned businesses. “The idea of the program itself intrigued us,” he remarks. “It was an opportunity to expand our business, get us more exposure and share our products with the world.”

Patience was a virtue for Harris Cohen of King Street Cookies. As an established retailer on Charleston’s historically and architecturally significant King Street, Cohen had long been interested in an opportunity to offer his menu of 40 different sweet treats to the nearly 4 million passengers who pass through CHS each year.

“I was told (inline space) had already been leased, but to be patient as there was the possibility of a kiosk program in the future,” Cohen recalls. “We registered on the airport mailing list and applied immediately when the applications became available. Hopefully, our airport location will drive business to our downtown store and our upcoming new store in Mount Pleasant.” 

In the case of LMM Dolls & Gifts, Chambers and McGhee visited the company’s popular Charleston City Market location. Struck by the shop’s festive inventory of topsy-turvy dolls, cotton angels, chinaberry seed jewelry and other gift items, Chambers asked co-owner Tyrone Wilson if he would be interested in applying to the airport’s specialty leasing program. 

“I immediately said ‘yes’,” Wilson recalls. “We were intrigued with the opportunity of growing our small business. Having two locations would enable us to increase sales and expand our customer base. Additionally, the possibility of one day graduating from a kiosk-based operation to an inline store was equally intriguing.

“However, having a small business is much more than dollars and cents. Taking on new challenges and turning uncertainty into success was the real driving force in our applying for a kiosk location at the Charleston International Airport.”

Wilson’s vision of potentially parlaying the LMM kiosk into a full-fledge store at the airport is actually built into the program structure. 

“If at any point these vendors recognize that this is something they really want to do long term, they can grow into an airport concessionaire company,” says Chambers. “That is a huge hurdle because of the cost, but this is a small entryway for these companies to come in.”

Campbell notes that future opportunities will, indeed, be available for local businesses to progress from small, self-contained kiosks to inline stores that operate alongside neighbors such as Hudson’s 658-square-foot Tech on the Go store and Delaware North’s 2,953-square-foot Jack Nicklaus Golden Bear Grill restaurant.

For Campbell, that kind of growth for local businesses is the “frosting on the cake.”  


2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement

Giving back to the community is central to what Charlotte Douglas International Airport and its operator, the City of Charlotte Aviation Department, is about, and last year was no different. 

Throughout 2022, while recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued our efforts to have a positive impact on the Charlotte community. Of particular note, we spent the year sharing stories of how Connections Don't Just Happen at the Terminal - from creating homeownership and employment opportunities to supporting economic growth through small-business development and offering outreach programs to help residents understand the Airport better.

This whitepaper highlights the construction projects, initiatives, programs and events that validate Charlotte Douglas as a premier airport.

Download the whitepaper: 2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement.



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