Image Credit: Curbed New York, A survey of Canal Street’s changing landscape
This is the true and final culminating post in the mini-series “Exploring Commercial Rent Increases Amidst a Struggling Brick and Mortar Sector.” (If you’re just joining in, check out the first, second, and third counterparts to this post!) I’ll continue with the happy stuff, the positives of what and who is championing independent business alongside us.
Getting Creative: Sharing is Caring
My motive in supporting small business is that it’s where innovation comes from. I don’t want to live in a homogenous world. I want to live in a world surrounded by cool new things: a diverse, novel world that’s always surprising me. One way to engage in this idea, in specific regard to the way retail operates today, is the idea of space sharing.
A New Yorker writer proposed “pop-up stores” using “abandoned spaces on a seasonal basis;” Forbes writes that “the sharing economy” has resulted in a “WeWork-like retail model wherein merchants rent space to other merchants or brands” in a ‘pop-share’ model.”
In one post on Sidewalk Talk, a digital editorial series by urban innovation firm Sidewalk Labs, three of the five hypothetical solutions posed in “Street Life After Retail” (that is, retail as we know it) involved the idea of temporary retail leases or space-shares. Mutable or short-term marketplaces; an “indie guild” for collaboration, congregation, and commerce; and activated common spaces with shared amenities and overhead are all included, and regarded as having theoretical positive urban impacts.
Similarly, world-renowned architect David Rockwell recently told New York Magazine his idea to space-share the myriad vacant storefronts in NYC. It’d be an on-demand, Airbnb-style bookings system, and spaces could be used effectively, efficiently, and for whatever users needed them.
Lucky for us, there are some creatives and businesses pursuing making the idea of pop-sharing truly accessible, and truly beneficial for small businesses. Guesst, a new digital platform for which I’m Chief Retail Strategist—which was founded by my dear friend and business partner on Detroit Built, Jay Norris—is one resource whose mission is 100% to support the independent business, retailer, storefront, or creative entrepreneur. Guesst is a retail matchmaking platform, pairing brands with spaces to make the idea of pop-shares, or short-term retail space sharing, an effective, realistic, and lucrative pathway for businesses to succeed amidst a shifting, struggling traditional retail sector. (Clearly, I’m a biased fan!)
I personally advocate for demanding transparency in order to speed a reasonable adjustment of commercial rents. My belief is that removing the veil of secrecy regarding what tenants are actually paying, versus “market” rates, is why I’ve been very active in small business and tenant advocacy. It’s also part of why I launched Design Talk by MV. The sooner the rents adjust, as the Small Business Jobs Survival Act is pointedly fighting for, the more small businesses might be preserved; the sooner the rents adjust, the sooner the commercial playing field can be re-democratized.
What this all means—and this is a distinction I find incredibly important—is that it’s not about stopping growth, by any means. I don’t NOT want big business to succeed, when it’s valuable; I merely recognize the value and the necessity of a commercial playing field that ALSO allows small businesses the chance to grow.
To further promote the ideas of fairness in our city’s commercial ecosystem, we’ve begun Design Talk Roundtables, which launched February 06. Save the date for the next one upcoming on Tuesday, March 13! Industry members, interested parties, retailers, small and large businesspeople alike—come one, come all, and join us for some fun, some crucial conversation, and some major education.
Till next week!
As told to Emily R. Pellerin