All over America, towns are struggling with vacant space at street level. The problem started with Walmart siphoning off business and grew as online retailers vacuumed up more sales.
It used to be that merchants owned the building and lived over the store, but that mostly is not the case these days. In urban and some suburban areas, high rents are a problem. Retail theft is another thorn in the side.
What are the benefits of independent storefront retail?
Downtowns need retail to add interest. Restaurants are strongly resurging post-covid. After you’ve dined, you’d like to walk off your dinner. It isn’t much fun strolling past doctors’ offices and fitness spas, much less empty storefronts. Additional foot traffic means more business, more pride in appearance, and less crime.
Individual store ownership creates opportunities for young people to work. Nothing gives better experience in customer service than working in retail.
My wife Nancy, whose parents owned a clothing store on the main street of Narberth, worked after school and on weekends. Workers in small businesses get to see the whole operation, not just one function as with chain stores.
How do we get more independent retail on main street? First, we must recognize that independent retailing is endangered and needs help. The American Express Shop Small campaign to continue to educate consumers into the importance of independent businesses is great. More such programs would be helpful.
In France, to promote local shopping, Amazon and other online retailers are not permitted to undercut local stores on pricing and may not offer free shipping; I don’t think that kind of regulation would work in the US.
Britain’s largest asset manager, Legal and General Investment Management is experimenting with real estate and urban renewal by providing 2 years of free rent on a small shopping street in Poole, England. The results to date are positive. Part of Legal and General’s incentive was to make their properties less cookie cutter and more diverse in their reliance on national chains. They don’t intend to offer additional free rent programs, however.
Philadelphia has had a real estate tax abatement program in place for new residential construction for years. This program has been wildly successful; there are thousands of new residences in completion over the next couple of years.
Maybe landlords should get a tax break when they rent space to independent retailers?
Finally, it comes down to the small business owner. Are the goods or services unique? Of excellent quality? Is the service such as helping to choose the proper running shoe providing expertise that is not easy to get?
As my father used to say, you can’t fool the public. If what you’re offering is mediocre, you don’t deserve to have a store on main street.
TABASFUNDING provides funds in the form of loans from $50,000-$750,000 to entrepreneurs who want to expand or acquire businesses. We will look at other business situations which require capital, effort, management, and patience. It will take a while to find out who the winners are in the current environment. If you think you have one, and need funding, please contact me directly at 610-896-2400 or Lee@TABASFUNDING.com.
LEE TABAS is available as a Director, Trustee, and Consultant. With 30+ years of business, entrepreneurship and banking experience, Lee can be helpful with ideas, policies and second opinions. Available for short-term or permanent assignments. Please call 610-896-2400 or email Lee@TABASFUNDING.com for further information.