The Downtown Partnership of Baltimore wants to plug vacant storefronts with pop-up shops, restaurants and art galleries with a new program that launches Friday.
The partnership hopes the program will connect areas with shopping, entertainment and nightlife by filling in the rows of empty, unlit storefronts on many of the city’s streets.
“Once people from out of town leave the Inner Harbor — or even if you’re if an office worker — you need a compelling reason to pull you into other neighborhoods,” said partnership spokesman Michael Evitts.
Through Operation: Storefront, the partnership will link entrepreneurs and established restaurateurs and shop owners with downtown landlords who have empty, street-level space. The business group will provide up to $10,000 per project to outfit the space, pay for permits and licenses and cover other costs.
“The idea is to provide them with almost incubator space,” said Mackenzie Paull, manager of retail and economic development for the Downtown Partnership. “If we can help them get their feet under them and provide them the money to get fixtures and do build-out, that can blossom into a self-sustaining business.”
The program has $90,000 to start, Paull said. The money was raised as part of an increase to the surcharges levied on downtown property owners. The surcharge climbed 7 cents on July 1 to 21.39 cents per $100 of assessed property value.
Operation: Storefront is based on similar programs in other cities that find artists space to develop and display their work. Swing Space launched in New York in 2005 and since has placed more than 1,000 artists in 20 different locations that range from gutted industrial spaces to an underground bank vault.
While the partnership’s effort is targeted at street-level retail property, it will expand beyond the arts, looking for chefs who want to experiment with new concepts, retailers that want a peek into a new market or entrepreneurs who need a little nudge.
The focus will be on short-term leases to work around other plans landlords may have for the property. And the partnership will give priority consideration to projects on Calvert Street between Lombard and Baltimore, and Charles Street between Lombard and Franklin.
“Both of those areas are areas where there are a lot of strengths, but where there is a fair amount of under-utilized space,” Paull said.
Baltimore has had limited exposure to pop-up stores that have caught on in other cities and been embraced by big-time retailers like Target.
After spending time in a pop-up location on South Calvert Street, the Current Gallery, which hosts collections from local artists, moved to a permanent home on Howard Street. And H&S Properties Development Corp. has filled some vacant space in Harbor East with temporary retail outlets as it searched for permanent tenants.
The 10 months that high-end men’s clothier J.S. Edwards spent in the Legg Mason tower was a valuable foray into a new market for the 27-year-old, one-store fixture in Pikesville, said its president, Edward Steinberg.
He said the pop-up store helped “scratch an itch” he’s always had, and earned the store some new customers in the process.
“That’s what we’ve always wanted to do is venture out,” he said. “But as a business owner, it’s hard to do that without testing out the area. It’s almost like a litmus test.”