Vacant retail spaces are a challenge on many commercial corridors. Keeping those vacancies from negatively impacting retail sales for the rest of the district is increasingly critical to the health of these districts. As folks in the field know, the impact of vacant storefronts creates a “spillover” effect that reduces overall foot traffic and contributes to a perception of the district that can hurt other businesses in the district. Lower retail sales hurt the tax base and can put struggling businesses over the edge...resulting in more vacant storefronts. Finding creative ways to fill these vacancies, even temporarily, is an important on-going strategy for commercial district managers seeking to prevent this downward spiral. While this is not a new topic for readers of this blog, I was pleased to see a recent article in the New York Times ("Pop! An Empty Shop Fills With Art) that speaks to this trend. Landlords also chimed in on the benefit of filling these spaces with non-paying/low-paying tenants. One landlord mentioned the added value of having the spaces occupied as they provide opportunities for other potential tenants get to see the space in use.
The British government has also begun to engage in this effort. They have created a $5 million dollar 'revival fund' that helps "hard-hit areas to transform empty shops into something useful, like showrooms for local artists" in addition to an $800,000 fund to "help artists and arts organizations turn vacant high street shops into artistic spaces." Could this be a model for hard-hit communities here in the US?