One thing commonly found in America’s small towns today are empty store fronts. In many towns it’s obvious commercial property has simply been abandoned and not being maintained. Where the property owner is still spending on maintenance they can’t be covering their expenses from an empty room.
There’s been lots of discussion about how to revitalize our small town business centers and one of the major barriers is the cost of rent to start-up a business. Investing in a retail business or restaurant is a major risk in any economy or environment. Doing so in a community where the retail magnet is a huge box store within driving distance is even riskier.
This morning I was listening to a conversation between a US Senator, an author, and several pundits about revitalizing depressed areas. One example given was of a successful entertainer who took some of his millions, bought a large abandoned building in his hometown and offered it to start-ups for a monthly rental fee of just .10 cents a square foot.
It made me think of all the commercial square footage sitting vacant and not earning its owner any income. As a land lord in such a situation, why not drastically reduce your rental rates just to get a viable business in your space. If you make it easy for them up front you may find yourself on the winning end if the business succeeds and you are able to gradually raise your rent in the end.
Seems like a win-win for everyone. The community begins to take on an air of health and vibrancy, quality of life begins to improve, jobs are potentially created, tax revenues increase, others are encouraged to take a chance, outsiders begin to think that maybe this would be a good place to raise a family or retire to, commercial property values increase, and the potential for a return on investment for the property owner is improved.
Last year I observed this sort of thing taking place in Cincinnati’s Over the Rhine district. What had once been an area of crime and urban decay is coming back from the abyss. A non-profit development group has been buying up and renovating properties for several years. The upper floors are converted into housing for different income levels while the ground level store fronts are made available to prospective entrepreneurs on a sliding scale, often with low-interest start-up loans.
What has made these programs possible in Cincinnati is the availability of large corporate investment combined with city, county, state, and federal guidance and funding. Most small communities have to deal with very tight and limited budgets and often lack the kind of corporate presence needed to help with investment.
So, one of the few remaining options is for the community’s commercial property owners to bite the bullet and take a chance. In the typical small town only a few people own the storefronts. If you are one of them, please give this a thought. If you are one of the millions of Americans with an idea and who would love to own your own business, find out who the land lords in your town are, get your business plan solidified, and then pay them a visit and see if you can negotiate yourself some affordable rent and a new beginning on life.