Abandoned storefronts are bad for business, and bad for the soul of a place. There’s something about empty space that just kills downtown.
But, actually, there’s no need for stores to be empty. During the recession, towns and cities have found plenty of alternative uses that at least keep streets lively. We wrote recently about an "Airbnb For Storefronts," which links up property owners and people with good ideas (ZipSpaces is a similar concept). Oakland has a multiple-storefront approach called Popuphood (which we wrote about here). And there are many projects that have put in artwork (see, for example, Seattle and Denver), and even temporary parks.
Here are three more ideas we came across recently:
In Northern Ireland, local councils have covered up more than 100 properties, in some cases falsifying what’s inside. Stickers and billboards make butcher’s shops and post offices appear full of produce and people. The approach is definitely extreme, and arguably a bit manipulative, but it serves a purpose. At least the lot isn’t an eyesore, and doesn’t attract vandalism, or unwanted guests. The effort is part of preparations for an international summit in mid-June.
In New York, eBay has put up several "shoppable windows" covering up non-active storefronts. Nine-foot-by-two-foot, the panels allow passersby to order from a new fashion line called Kate Spade Saturday, and have the items delivered in about an hour. The idea extends the eBay brand, but also uses up unused space.
San Jose, in California, has opened up storefronts to young businesses--albeit on a temporary basis. An initiative called Start Up San Jose recently held a two-day event, where stores became co-working spaces, and vendors sold jewelry, art and clothing. The city said it wanted to show what downtown would be like if it wasn’t 20% empty.