Main Street’s Role: Backfilling Empty Buildings in Your Downtown

Main Street’s Role:

Backfilling Empty Buildings in Your Downtown

Q&A with Jenn Gregory, Elliott Cook, and Jeremy Murdock

In this Q&A article, our Downtown Strategies team provides guidance to Main Street Directors in backfilling empty buildings and discuss the process for working hand-in-hand with city leaders to advance the downtown community.

Questions asked to our team of experts:

  1. In your experience, what are some common challenges that rural downtowns face when trying to attract and retain businesses, and how can these challenges be addressed?
  2. Can you provide examples of what successful Main Street Directors in rural downtown revitalization do for their community and the key factors contributing to their success?
  3. What creative and effective strategies can be implemented to attract new businesses and fill vacant storefronts in a rural downtown?
  4. What are some common mistakes Main Street directors make?


In your experience, what are some common challenges that rural downtowns face when trying to attract and retain businesses, and how can these challenges be addressed?

Jeremy Murdock: The most common challenges we see in rural downtowns are related to difficulties with properties due to absentee property owners, downtown space that is used as storage, and property owners that have not upgraded or modernized their spaces. Spaces that are not move-in ready, or storefronts that are occupied by service providers (think attorneys or title companies) are also common challenges.

A common short-term strategy for addressing these issues is to take steps to activate these underutilized storefronts. This could include converting a boarded-up storefront into a public art opportunity or placing local artwork in vacant and underutilized storefronts. Find any way to divert attention away from the problem and toward something positive for the overall downtown.

Elliott Cook: A way to address vacancies is with pop-up shops. Like staging a house – show the potential of the space. Show a potential retail and restaurant operator what the downtown market is like.

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JM: Incentives like façade grants or building stabilization grants can also help with vacancies. These programs require funding, but they are effective strategies for nudging property owners into action. Big hurdles like sprinkler systems and roof costs can be offset by building stabilization grants.

Ultimately, Main Street organizations need to share the story of their downtown and make it seem like an active, vibrant space. Make your “product” – your downtown – look as desirable as possible. This can be accomplished through social media and other outlets, and by constantly programing activities to bring people downtown.

EC: One thing not to forget is the site selection component. Try to pair an appropriate retailer or entrepreneur with the property that makes the most sense. This is something that Main Street directors can work on with local entrepreneurs or the city’s community development / economic development team.

Get the answers to avoid Main Street mistakes.

Downtown experts reveal 4 common errors and how to strategically backfill empty spaces to create a thriving downtown.

If your downtown team has similar challenges, we can help!

Redevelopment doesn’t happen overnight, but Downtown Strategies’ approach has been implemented in 25 states. We can do the same for your downtown.

About Downtown Strategies

Downtown Strategies, a division of Retail Strategies, exists to provide realistic, implementable strategies to communities for revitalizing their downtowns. Led by a team of former downtown revitalization practitioners and real estate experts, our combination of real-world experience, plus expertise in real estate and retail uniquely qualify us to assist communities with backfilling vacancies, increasing tourism, and enhancing the sense of place in their downtowns. Serving rural communities in 25 states, Downtown Strategies is the leading national firm for downtown revitalization planning, emphasizing real estate and retail.

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My relationship with the Retail Strategies team has been extremely valuable over the last couple of years as I’ve searched for sites in the Southeast. They have been persistent and provided any information they could gather for available properties that fit my criteria. If they received news that a space was coming available they made sure to immediately give me a call and connect with the owners. I would recommend using this service to any of my colleagues looking in their client cities.

Walter Kelly, Broker

Arc Realty

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Retail Strategies has been a tremendous asset to Cypress. They have access to industry and business intelligence in an immensely competitive retail environment. The relationships they develop with commercial/retail property owners delivers results for the city because Retail Strategies excels at marketing their clients.

Peter Grant, City Manager

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