Friday, August 28, 2009

Multiple Retail Vacancies? Hold a District-Wide Retail Open House!

We all know successful commercial districts when we see them. These are districts where we WANT to shop and spend leisure time. They typically offer shoppers a great mix of interesting stores within walking distance of one another. But how do you get to that level of success if your district is struggling with multiple vacancies and potential tenants are hesitant because there is just not enough ‘there there’ quite yet? This is the perennial chicken and egg problem…you don’t have shoppers because the business mix and density of retail is lacking, yet, the business mix and density of retail won’t happen if you don’t have shoppers. What do you do?

Filling multiple retail vacancies at the same time can help address these problems. Easier said than done…but a District-Wide Retail Open House is a good tool to help you market and fill multiple spaces at once. Two communities I have worked with recently have chosen to go this route. In Brooklyn, NY, the Pratt Area Community Council (PACC) recently held a “Rolling up the Gates” event that allowed entrepreneurs and brokers to tour over 16 available commercial properties on
Central Fulton Street
on a single day. And the buzz leading up to the event resulted in two spaces getting signed before the event had even happened.

In Philadelphia, the East Passyunk Business Improvement District (EPBID) takes a similar tack. The organization sponsors an Entrepreneur’s Luncheon where they provide potential tenants information about the district, retail vacancies opportunities, and help them connect with landlords to fill vacancies along the street. The hard work

So, how does a District-Wide Retail Open House work?
In the case of PACC, the event started with a welcome reception at a local restaurant that allowed property owners and potential business owners to network. A packet was handed out to all participants that included: an event flyer, a handout that included information on every available site, including address, square footage, rent/lease rate and contact information for the broker or landlord. PACC had also recently completed a MetroEdge market analysis, and these market profile summaries were distributed to participants. The profiles highlighted retail categories with market potential, including significant demand in general merchandise, grocery stores and full-service restaurants. The message to attendees? The market in and around
Fulton Street
was ready and able to sustain their business.

The main focus of the event was the self-guided tour of available properties, which began after the mid-morning reception and ran until 7:30 pm. During this time, prospective tenants were provided with maps and property specifications and were invited to visit the 16 retail-ready spaces. The owners of these spaces rolled-up their gates and were available during the day to meet prospective tenants and discuss possible lease terms.

Local artists also enlivened several vacant storefronts during this event by converting the vacant spaces into one-day art galleries and performance spaces for passers-by to enjoy. These installations combined paintings, fashion, music and dance to invite visitors into the spaces and present different interpretations of the space's potential.

Reflecting on the event, Dale Charles, PACC's Director of Economic Development says, "We see our Open House on Thursday as a pilot project that created a strong foundation to make this a regular event."

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