How to fill storefront vacancies at South Street-Headhouse Square

Weekly Press: Discussion continues over how to fill storefront vacancies at Monthly South Street Headhouse Square Meeting

Finding more effective ways to fill vacant storefronts along South Street East remained the focus of the South Street Headhouse Square District’s (SSHD) monthly meeting last Wednesday, January 13th.

There are sixteen vacant storefronts above the 500 block of South Street, said Al Grafstrom, co-owner of Lafourno Ristorante. Speaking of those the SSHD is employing to improve the corridor’s vitality, he continued, “I think that the new marketing efforts are being targeted only to 2nd Street and the Shambles.”

Added Grafstrom, “I don’t think enough is being done to address the crime, graffiti or vacancies above 5th Street.”

Howard Lander of the Lander Company, which owns the building that houses Whole Foods and other properties, countered Grafstrom’s claim on the number of vacancies along South Street by stating that “with the exception of one, those storefronts had been rented out as [temporary] artists’ spaces.”

Under a plan formed by the Copabanana’s Bill Curry and the Eye Gallery’s Julia Zagar, Lander, along with Steve Giannascoli, owner of Triad Realty Company, donated some of their vacant storefronts to arts groups to use as either gallery or studio spaces, with the understanding that they would be responsible for paying utilities but would be exempt from paying rent for two months, with a month-to-month renewal option.

But according to Grafstrom, a more effective way of filling said vacancies would involve encouraging the storefronts’ owners to either give prospective tenants a line of credit or lower rents.

“There are a lot of people with great ideas about opening a small business,” Grafstrom continued, “but they don’t know how to come up with a business plan. Or they can’t get a line of credit from the bank,”

Grafstrom continued, adding that the SSHD should invite the city’s real estate leaders to a round table discussion to suggest such proposals.

While not out right disagreeing with Grafstrom’s plan, the SSHD’s Chair Michael Untermyer commented, “But we can’t even get the people on the block to participate.”

For J.C. Sykes, who owns Jon’s Bar and Grille, improving the corridor’s livelihood rests with holding more large-scale events. “We need to hold at least three street-wide, from Front to 12th Street events a year. But,” Sykes continued, “everybody says we can’t get the street closed.”

Sykes said that more people will come to South Street as a result of the large events, giving more prospective business owners an incentive to open shops there.

Joette Adams, the SSHD’s co-Chair, however, took a different view.

“We need the stores filled first,” Adams explained.

“There isn’t any point in getting that many people down here for these large scale events when there are so many vacant stores,” Adams continued, stressing the fact that the SSHD plans to hire a retail coordinator for the district who would act as a broker in attracting new businesses.

“And,” Adams asked rhetorically, “don’t you think stores are dying here as a result of the recession [and not a failing of South St.], just as they are dying all over the city, Walnut Street included?”

It was then suggested by another business owner in attendance that the issues regarding vacant storefronts be addressed at the business development committee meetings held the last Thursday of each month at 10 a.m., “which no one besides those on the executive committee ever seems to attend.”

David Hammond, the Headhouse Square’s Executive Director, then added that while the SSHD did have the ability to close certain blocks for street-wide events, many business owners were not in favor of it due to the traffic congestion it caused on other blocks.

On another note, another resident made the suggestion that it could prove worthwhile for business owners to pull together and pay for eight hours’ worth of parking from the Kiosks, then advertise it as free parking.

Shana Vitoff of the Society Hill Dance Academy then added that according to the Philadelphia Parking Authority, if a driver purchased three hours’ worth of parking at a Kiosk along South Street, the ticket could be used at other Kiosks citywide in the time that remained on the ticket.

Linda Miller of the Philadelphia Parking Authority later confirmed this through an email exchange.

The South Street Head House District holds its meetings in the Old Pine Community Center at 401 Lombard Street. For more information about the SSHD, its mission, meeting times or events calendar: www.southstreet.com.

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