What can a suburb do about business closings?

by Anonymous

Our suburb was always a beautiful place, mostly built in the 1970s and early 80s, until just recently. We never had any trouble, we had all the conveniences anyone could want, and we had every fast food franchise and business we needed just within a mile or two at most. Now we have been through a surprising number of foreclosures and businesses have closed right and left during the last two years. That isn't so surprising, since the economy is bad, but what does have our town council perplexed is that there doesn't seem to be any demand to open new busineses. What can we do?

Editors' Reply:
Your question correctly links the fact that you have some foreclosures and vacant or abandoned homes with the fact that businesses are closing. Fewer customers with money to spend will lead to fewer businesses, especially franchises and retail that depends on local traffic rather than customers from outside your area.

The best course of action for your town council would be brutal self-honesty. That's hard if you have to stand for election, we know, but the four of us have conferred and see no other way forward.

If you have a few vacant businesses, we'd say do everything you can
to encourage and push building owners to find good tenants, but then wait and see when happens when and if the economy improves.

However, if many storefronts are vacant, it's possible that you have an over-supply that won't be filled for many years to come. Consider it your opportunity for a suburban retrofit in which you fill in some former storefronts with attractive residential development or live-work units where the first floor could include a small public office, with living space on the remainder of the first floor and the second floor.

Delve deeply into urban sprawl solutions, which include intensifying your uses by building residential uses or small offices on parking lots, as well as entertaining the idea of mixed use development or infill housing.

By all means, be aggressive about pursuing your options, using personal contacts with developers and entrepreneurs to develop relationships and expand business opportunities.

This is a true "think outside the box" situation, as it's probable that your metropolitan area has several more comparable suburbs. You have to be strong, smart, and willing to take a few risks and make some friends to resolve this situation.

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