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While the somewhat-deserved stereotype of Philly storefronts is of display windows are papered over with promotional signage, brutal security grates, and original upper story bays obscured by plywood, “the design reality is that lots of great design is going on along commercial corridors,” said Robin Kohles, Project Associate and manager of the Collaborative’s rStore Program.
Robin was speaking to an audience that included many of Philadelphia’s commercial corridor managers. Her presentation, Good Design Is Good Business: Corridor Realities, presented real examples of Philly façade makeovers and a lexicon of the basic façade elements. It was created to equip corridor managers with some new tools to talk façade improvement with storeowners.
Corridor managers are the behind-the-scenes champions for the Philadelphia’s neighborhood commercial corridors: North Fifth Street, Germantown Avenue, Passyunk Avenue, Frankford Avenue, and Woodland Avenue to name just a few. They are charged by community development corporations to make neighborhood commercial corridors more economically viable, vibrant, and eye-catching.
Along with strategic planning and business development, a big part of a corridor manager’s job is about connecting business owners with resources to improve their businesses. One of those resources is façade improvement grants through the Commerce Department and The Merchants Fund. Corridor managers come to their current positions with a variety of backgrounds—community organizing, economic development, real estate—but seldom from design.
The Community Design Collaborative and Philadelphia Commerce Department, who have been working in partnership over the last two years, recognized the need to provide corridor managers with design tools to persuade storeowners to take the time, energy, and (sometimes) leap of faith to reinvest in their storefront facades.
Philadelphia experienced a burst of storefront makeovers over the last decade, yielding scores of projects that are both inspiring and doable. Robin and Camille Cazon, Project Assistant for rStore, mined these for relevant examples for corridor managers to show their storeowners. “If you like something, don’t be afraid to copy it… and start improvements in stages on the way to saving up for larger investments down the road,” Robin coached corridor managers to tell storeowners.
Drawing from their own outreach experiences, corridor managers swapped stories about businesses embracing (or resisting) sprucing up their stores. They shared good news (customer traffic increased by 30% after the Green Line Café installed a new canopy) and not-so-good news (storeowners are very reluctant to apply for façade improvement grants along the corridors that need positive change the most). Corridor managers also gave feedback on how the presentation could be packaged to help them with their outreach.
After the presentation, attendees had an opportunity to talk with representatives of the Philadelphia Commerce Department, the Department of Licenses of Inspections, SCRUB, The Merchants Fund, and the Community Design Collaborative.
Corridor Realities was organized by the Community Design Collaborative and the Philadelphia Commerce Department and sponsored by Aztec Signs, Fourth River Signworks, and Murray Construction.