Cleaning Up Neighborhood Store Fronts

by Ginny
(West Albany)

How do you get neighborhood businesses to clean up their store fronts?

Editors' Reply: Ginny, we're not sure what problem you mean, so we'll answer about three different ways:

1) We assume you mean that the front facades of the buildings need help. Maybe they're the old rusty metal siding, or even worse, 1970s vinyl. Perhaps the doors and window frames need painting.

If you have a business improvement district or a business organization, maybe they could start a facade improvement program. In better times, banks frequently loaned a small amount to organizations to start a revolving loan fund for the program. You might have to go to your city government.

Another option is to go the route of code enforcement.

2. You might mean something less time-consuming to solve. If the store windows are cluttered with flyers, miscellaneous ads, garish signs, and so forth, your best approach probably is to form a committee or at least a group of two or three of you to plead with the business owner or manager personally to clean it up.

If you have storefronts that are filled with adult businesses and you want risque material "cleaned up" in that sense, you have an entirely different problem.

In that case, your town government is going to have to pressure them to move somewhere else.

However, towns, cities, and villages don't take decisions to discourage business lightly. If they try to discriminate against a class of business, they will need a very firm legal footing. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects many things as speech.

So don't assume that an adult business situation can be resolved easily, without a lot of political debate and also sound legal counsel.

3. If you mean the front of the store, or the windows, literally are dirty, as in dusty and haven't been cleaned for years, it's still the personal approach that counts. Ask the owner how you can help, but unless you know that person well, visit as a group of two or three rather than as a single individual.

Now we hope we help more people than just Ginny. Making a business district look clean, up-to-date in streetscape (a term that means items such as planters or benches), consistent in its architectural period to the extent possible, and free of rundown vacant buildings is a huge challenge.

However, it's the only way to stay viable in a time when people have many options for shopping.

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