Stores for free
Programs offer stores for free to entrepreneurs needing a leg up, and cities looking to fill vacancies.

Stores for free! Drastic actions aim to fill empty storefronts

Ever struggled trying to fill empty storefronts? Or frustrated by For Lease signs?

The truth is that busy downtowns and Main Streets are good for everybody. They increase health and wellness in nearby neighborhoods, and return vitality and safety to streets. But sometimes new business owners need help.

One Main St. program has a solution to convince new owners to step up and open a business. And it’s simpler than you might think.

The CreateHereNow program aims to offer free rent to new businesses. It allows empty storefronts to be occupied for the first three months at no charge – with hopes that these eventually will be paying leaseholders.

The program, which is featured on The Day, has been implemented at 20+ cities across the US state of Connecticut. The $500,000 program is run through the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

The groups that have passed muster to become the city’s first CreateHereNow storefronts include an independent eyeglass retailer, a cooperative boutique, bike repair shop, wellness cooperative, furniture and design store, skateboard shop and a children’s learning center.

In Toledo, Ohio, a similar program, featured in The Blade has been launched by the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce.

According to The Blade, the project, DevelUp Toledo (as in, develop), launched in November, and the people who run it will host Shark Tank-like business pitch sessions.  A committee hears the pitches and chooses one to three winners.

Winners will receive one year of free rent on the condition that they participate in a year of intense business instruction, working with accountants, lawyers, and other experts, with the goal of becoming a viable, long-lasting, successful business.

Colleen Kardasz, the chamber’s small business development center project manager, said private funding will be used to “white box” vacant spaces — providing basic renovations to make a space business-ready. The business owner, the landlord, and the DevelUp group will negotiate a lease agreement.

Tenants will get a year of free rent, but they will have to pay 75 percent of market-rate rent in the second year of the deal. In the third year, the business will pay full rent. Part of rent from the third year would go back to the DevelUp program to keep it going.

Throwing money at problems doesn’t solve them. But when you work with entrepreneurs and landlords to come up with creative solutions, the benefits often far outweigh the costs.

Let’s be creative and fill empty storefronts around the world. Our children will thank us.

About Darryl Kaplan

Darryl Kaplan is a public speaker, author and advocate who believes that the BIG IDEA will save Main Street and create a new revolution in local living. An entrepreneur with a passion for small business and retail, Kaplan founded the Baby Point Gates Business Improvement Area in Toronto, and currently sits as its Chair. He was elected to the Executive Committee of the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas - an organization that represents 81 BIAs and 35,000 small businesses. A multiple award winner in communications, magazine writing and editing, Kaplan has had hundreds of columns and editorials published nationally.

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