Many of the neighborhoods where I work have problems with vacancies. There are lots of reasons why this happens...in fact, too many to go into here (perhaps another post?). As a commercial district manager, there are ways to 'hide' those vacancies until the spaces get refilled. In Los Angeles they have started a clever program called "Phantom Gallery LA". The program takes vacant storefronts and turns them into temporary art installations, creating visual interest along the street and increasing foot traffic. This not only helps adjacent businesses, but it gives local artists a place to exhibit their work...and make a sale or two while they are at it. If marketed in partnership with a restaurant week, this could help drive traffic in a targeted way to local restaurants who may be struggling through these difficult economic times.
Another interesting concept are retail pop-up stores. Clothing and furniture retailers in particular are using this pop-up concept to get in front of their target customer for short periods of time. This is really not too different in theory than those tacky Halloween and Christmas Tree shops that pop up in the mall every so often. Target recently opened up four"Bullseye Bodegas" along major commercial strips in Manhattan over a four-day period. IKEA recently did the same in Toronto, Cananda to announce the release of their 2009 catalogue. As vacancies rise and rents fall, landlords may be more willing to take on this novel approach to filling their space - and help turn the vacancy into a district asset.
Resource Link: BusinessWeek "The Making of a Pop-Up Store" - Gap, Nike, and Target are among the retailers developing Pop-Up Stores.
Shopping Centers Today, "Windows of Opportunity", Oct. 2008
Image: Phantom Gallery LA storefront