Durango firm finds niche in bump-out designs in the COVID-19 era
Fifth century B.C. Chinese general Sun Tzu famously noted “in the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.”
Durangoans Maggie Kavan and Michael Carrier are proving him right – forming MODSTREET in the depth of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 to build modular, easily assembled structures that restaurants or retailers can use as outdoor additions to accommodate diners or shoppers.
Known as bump-outs in Durango and called “parklets” by MODSTREET, the structures have gained popularity across the country during the pandemic as a way for businesses to gain some extra space when many public-health orders constrained their capacity to serve their customers indoors.
“We realized that during COVID it was an incredible time for communities to start to rethink about how their downtown is laid out and how it serves people, how conducive it is to the actual members of the community,” Kavan said.
From discussions in a shared office, Kavan, who also owns ConsciousMKTG, and Carrier, who is founder and principal architect of Alpenglow Building + Design, began bouncing around ideas for portable, modular, easy-to-construct structures.
MODSTREET’s first parklet sale was to Seasons Rotisserie & Grill. Since then, the city of Grand Junction has purchased 12 parklets and the company is now making modular barricades and other enclosures.
The cities of Golden, Limon, Pueblo and Alamosa all have purchased parklets or other MODSTREET modular structures, and inquiries have come from as far away as the United Kingdom.
In six months of operation in 2020, MODSTREET had $500,000 in sales, and it expects $2 million in sales this year.
Seven employees are now busy constructing the modular parklets, barricades and other structures at MODSTREET’s 4,000-square-foot assembly facility in Bodo Industrial Park, where it moved about a month ago from its initial, smaller shop at the Animas Airpark.
Kavan anticipates MODSTREET will employ a total of 20 people by the end of the year.
Durango Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jack Llewellyn said homegrown companies like MODSTREET are especially welcome in diversifying Durango’s economy.
“They have an advantage because they’re already here. We don’t have to try and recruit businesses from outside the area to relocate,” he said. “They kind of have Durango figured out; they already know the price of housing. That’s not going to be a deterrent. To have already-settled companies build and ship out of Durango is an incredible benefit.”
He compared MODSTREET with StoneAge Water Blast Tools, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and Chinook Medical Gear as businesses that sprouted organically from people who already called Durango home.
“I think it’s important that we continue to help businesses like these grow and incentivize them,” he said. “We should nurture these types of situations, I would highly encourage both the city and the county to do everything possible to ensure that we retain them and help them when its time for them to expand.”
Carrier, who led the design effort on the modular structures, said it took several iterations before a final parklet design clicked.
“A lot of R&D went into them. There were challenges to design something easy to assemble, without using nuts and bolts,” he said. “We had different generations of improvements. A lot of work went into designing clips. You can build a whole parklet using a rubber mallet and a level.”
The modular units are fastened using male and female wedge units that snap together, and modulars can be expanded easily like Lego block structures.
In Grand Junction, a MODSTREET crew of four put together 32,000 pounds of the steel parklets, a semitruck load, in 1½ days.
A 10-foot by 10-foot parklet can be put together in about 20 minutes by two people.
MODSTREET offers two conventional size parklets – 10-foot by 10-foot as well as 8-foot by 8-foot. The large parklet sells for $8,000 and the smaller one for $7,000.
Parklets are surrounded on three sides by panels, which can be easily replaced to change its look, for example, with custom-designed and painted panels.
Parklets and other modulars are made from varying strengths of steel, with the strongest steel at the corners. Flooring material has been steel, but now composite wood used in decking is coming into use. The steel flooring, the heaviest component of a parklet, was one of the tougher parts to assemble, and the lighter composites help ease assembly.
Now, MODSTREET is beginning to design specialized parklets for use as stages. It’s also working on planters to create another type of barrier between a business’ outdoor customers and roadway traffic.
Besides use in downtowns, Kavan and Carrier envision cities using their structures at parks, for street fairs, festivals and other gatherings.
Also, MODSTREET is beginning to get a crash rating from the U.S. Department of Transportation that will provide metrics on its products’ crash-worthiness.
Ultimately, Kavan said true success will come when the MODSTREET modulars find a market when the novel coronavirus is no longer a worry.
“What we’re allowing is for an opportunity for communities to really bring the human element back to their cores, to bring people outside into a space that was normally reserved for an automobile,” she said. “One of the positive things that has come from COVID is utilizing outdoor space in downtowns more efficiently.”