Archive | business attraction RSS feed for this section

Smart Solutions to Empty Storefronts Popping Up in Colorado

8 Dec

Transforming Stagnant Spaces into Lively Places

In this current economy, it is not surprising to see vacant storefronts appear in Colorado communities of all sizes. But, what does surprise us is that the community and property owners let that storefront sit empty when there is an easy solution that benefits everyone: filling the space with a pop-up business.

There is no good reason to let empty storefronts remain empty. They create a stagnant space in what could otherwise be a lively contribution to a thriving commercial district. In fact, at many a technical assistance visit, DCI’s team of expert consultants has recommended a community fill its empty spaces with temporary installations otherwise known as “pop-up businesses.”  

What Is a Pop-up Business?

A pop-up business or store is created when an empty storefront temporarily houses a business for the benefit of both the property owner and the business owner. It is a fantastic solution to livening up those empty retail spaces and it is becoming popular across the country. In fact, pop-up stores are not the only businesses that are popping up these days…pop-up restaurants, pop-up food trucks, even pop-up bars are sprouting in communities across the country.  

Why Should You Consider a Pop-up? Now more than ever, when economic resources are at their thinnest, collaboration is key for the survival of any community. By utilizing a pop-up model for empty retail spaces, everyone is a winner!

  • Property owners: A pop-up business “sells” your space for you. A pop-up store can do for a retail space what home staging does for a house for sale—highlight the potential and encourage a business owner to picture themselves and their customers in the space. Think about it…if you were confronted with two potential retail spaces, one sitting dark, empty, and dusty, and one that was brimming with patrons and life, which one would you choose?
  • Potential business owners: A pop-up business allows you to “test the waters.” Whether a home-based business is considering a permanent move to a retail space or an entrepreneur wants to test out a new product, a pop-up space allows one to leap into the entrepreneurial pool without the risks of a permanent investment. It can provide the valuable information necessary to decide whether a business model needs to be tweaked or if you need to head into another direction all together.
  • Surrounding business owners: A pop-up business helps to encourage a lively commercial district. A vacant storefront can drag down the entire commercial district. But, filling this space with a temporary business will add to the vitality and encourage more business for everyone. After all, people attract more people…the more customers that are out and about in your district, the more intriguing the district will appear to others. Plus, encouraging business owners to test the waters and tweak their business model can eliminate a string of failed businesses, which can negatively impact the entire district.  
  • Community at large: A busy, attractive commercial district with no stagnant spaces provides a safe and lively environment, which benefits residents and visitors alike.

How Can a Pop-up Store Be Used?

Now that you’re convinced that you should never let a retail space sit empty, perhaps you’re wondering how to fill it? Here are some ideas from Colorado communities around the state that may provide you with a little inspiration.

1)  Create a temporary art gallery: Give local artists the chance to showcase their work. This could be as simple as displaying their artwork on the wall or as involved as creating an artist collaborative for artwork to be sold.  

Colorado example: I Heart Denver (located in the 16th Street Mall Pavilions Denver, Colorado) provides a locale for local artists and designers to sell their wares. The space supports “shopping local,” and artists collect 70 percent of all they sell.

2) Help a home-based business transition to retail: Entrepreneurs with a home-based business or new idea can safely test the waters without the usual risks. A temporary business allows entrepreneurs to work out the kinks and decide if a storefront is the best option.

Colorado example: Following up on a recommendation from a DCI technical assistance visit, Cedaredge, a small town of just over 2,000 in Delta County, utilized an empty storefront in the commercial district to bring in local home-based businesses to display and sell their products.

3) Engage the local community youth: Communities can encourage local youth to have pride in their community by encouraging research projects on the local history that culminates in an open house. Or provide students with the opportunity to have their own gallery, displaying artwork for the community to visit and admire. Bonus: proud parents who come to support their kids will create instant foot traffic. Colorado example: In 2007, Eads was awarded a Governor’s Award for Downtown Excellence for the high school students’ creation of “Sample Town.” These amazing students spent months researching viable businesses and assembling business plans for the empty retail spaces in Eads. The plans were unveiled to the public when the students each spent a day manning the empty storefronts and sharing their entrepreneurial visions with visitors.   

Need more inspiration? For more ideas of pop-up examples across the country, visit


New Creative Districts Legislation Passed: What Does It Mean?

13 Apr

Guest author Hilarie Portell of Portell Works explains the recently passed Creative Districts legislation and what it means for Colorado.

Creative enterprises are the fifth largest industry cluster in Colorado, and now local communities have a tool to help attract and retain them.

In late March, Governor Hickenlooper signed new legislation creating a statewide designation for creative districts. Communities that meet specific criteria will apply for the designation through the Colorado Creative Industries (CCI) division. Certified districts become eligible for technical support, limited state incentives and federal funding if it becomes available. An  application process should be in place by July 2012.

The creative district designation does not have any state fiscal implications or property requirements, such as tax credits or design guidelines. However, it could provide communities with a new economic development tool to build local support and targeted strategies for a creative district.

House Bill 11-1031 defines a creative district as a “well-recognized, designated mixed-use area of a community in which a high concentration of cultural facilities, creative businesses, or arts-related businesses serve as the anchor of attraction.” Creative districts may have multiple vacant properties in close proximity that would be suitable for redevelopment and may be home to both nonprofit and for-profit creative industries and organizations.

The legislation builds on a 2008 report by the Colorado Council on the Arts (now Colorado Creative Industries) on the state’s “creative economy.” It found that 186,251 jobs in Colorado are associated with creative enterprises and talent, with 2007 earnings totaling $5 billion. Importantly, creative enterprises are defined as “any company for which the primary value of its products or services is rooted in its emotional and aesthetic appeal to the customer.” This includes 69 industries in five categories: design, film/media, heritage, literary/publishing, and visual arts/craft. The categories comprise traditional arts as well as industrial and green design, interactive media, architecture, home furnishings, recreational products, local brewing operations and more. The full report is available at

Learn more about this legislation and its implications for your community at the May 11 DCI Development and Improvement Districts Forum. The DIDs forum is open to DCI members and will held from 2-4 p.m. at the Colorado Municipal League (1144 Sherman Street, Denver). Visit website for details and registration information.

Hilarie Portell helped draft and advocate for the creative district legislation. She is principal of Portell Works, a community and economic development consulting firm in Denver.

Economic Restructuring: Business Attraction & Retention in Colorado

17 Nov

Did you miss the November Downtown Institute: Economic Restructuring? Downtown Institute featured speaker and guest blogger Hilarie Portell of Portell Works blogs about business attraction and retention strategies recently implemented in communities across Colorado.

Numerous communities were spotlighted for their creative approaches to business attraction and retention at the November 5 Downtown Institute in Monte Vista. In a difficult economy where nobody is taking risks, here are some ways you can use local resources and talent to “grow your own.” 

Business Attraction

Financial incentives

  • The City of Aurora East End Arts District offers financial incentives for specific types of businesses to locate in the district. The grants, which average about $50,000, must be used for “bricks and mortar” projects and matched by the business. Source of the grants is Community Development Block Grant funds.
  • Monte Vista has an economic development assistance policy that offers loans and city support for new and expanding business.  Incentives may total up to $50,000. Small low interest loans are offered by a local bank as part of their Community Reinvestment Act obligation. City support may include waivers or reduction of various fees, as well as property tax rebates.
  • Many communities are exploring community-owned business models, and financing through Community Investment Institutions. Would your community leaders invest in a downtown incentive or business?

Multi-Tenant Non-profit Centers

  • The Denver Housing Authority has created a multi-tenant nonprofit center in their Benedict Park Place community. Nonprofit organizations can fill downtown space, provide needed community services, create foot traffic and generate revenue for property owners.

Business Retention


  • The City of Brighton offers small business assistance, job training, early childhood education and affordable healthcare services at the Brighton Learning and Resource Campus.
  • Local libraries can be an invaluable source of information and training for small business owners and entrepreneurs. The Town of Parker librarian is “embedded” with the downtown development group. She offers access to marketing databases, business research, and connections to business counselors and training. Involve your local librarian in your downtown effort.
  • Many communities are putting business resources on their websites. Castle Rock’s Economic Gardening program and Boulder’s Business Portal offer step-by-step instructions for new or expanding businesses, as well as research tools and training opportunities. 


  • Shop Local. The Town of Castle Rock’s “Rock Your Dollar” campaign generated $1.5 million in local spending in a two-month period. Shoppers earned cash cards for every $500 spent at local businesses ($50 card) or every $1,000 spent ($100 card). The Town provided $11,000 for the cash cards. 

Streamlining Processes

  • Castle Rock and Monte Vista have both streamlined approval processes for new development or businesses.  How many steps do business owners have to take to set up shop in your district? If you mapped it, could you work with those on the inside to streamline?

Hilarie Portell  is passionate about creating and revitalizing urban places. She has worked in public relations, marketing and management for a variety of complex projects for nearly 20 years and is founding principal of Portell Works.