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Facade Fanatic

What's old is new again: Reed's Coffee and Tea House in Powelton Village
Guest columnist Patricia Blakely talks about how every small business can become a “façade fanatic". She would know! As Executive Director of The Merchants Fund, she offers grants to small businesses in the City of Philadelphia to help them make money, save money, or change the way they do business.  

I know why I was asked to write about facades. I’m a façade geek. But the real nut to crack is to convince you why you should care and to show you what makes a good façade.

The average small business owner has many demands on their time and capital: Can I buy inventory this month? Will I make payroll? Is the roof going to leak this winter? Is it going to rain or snow and drive all my customers away?  But a façade is really an issue of advertising. Does it say “Look at how attractive I am? Don’t you want to buy some of these lovely shiny things in my window?” If you have cluttered your window with a million little signs and obscured the view into your shop so I can’t see more inventory, then I am going to keep on walking.  You are saying “go away!” to your potential customers.

A façade is really an issue of advertising.

If you are lucky, your building has good bones. That’s façade talk for a big street-level window, a beautiful architecturally interesting cornice above the window, a nice front door that is easy to open.  You are pretty set to go and you can make it just a little bit more inviting with some additional investments like a beautiful canvas awning in colors that complement the paint on your cornice which neatly ties into your logo and signage.  Oh, and how about some really nice lighting so that even at night you are attracting attention and making a safe zone around your building for pedestrians?

Reed's before storefront facade improvements

Overwhelmed by your facade and how much needs to be done?  Set a list of priorities and do a little bit at a time.  I always go for signage and awnings first, because it has the highest visual impact.  Find a facade that inspires you and take pictures.  A new coat of paint is also a really low-cost investment that can make a huge difference.

 I always go for signage and awnings first, because it has the highest visual impact.

Your front window is real estate, and whether you own your building or rent you are paying for it.  It needs to pay for itself.  Set up a regular schedule of seasonal window displays, display your merchandise in color themes, set up a little mini sale on a few items to get people in the door and then upsell that merchandise. Go read Paco Underhill’s Why We Shop: The Science of Shopping.  It’s quick and easy to read and will give you lots of ideas about how to feature your inventory.  Not a creative at heart?  Walk around and pick ideas from windows that catch your eye.  Take out that iPhone and snap a picture and keep a look book of ideas.

Are you stuck with one of those horrible solid security gates?  Hire a sign painter to put your store name and logo on it.  Save for a couple of years and replace that security gate eventually.  It’s a tax write-off!  Ask your accountant, you’ll find out that a lot of the improvements to the front of your building are either outright write-offs or depreciable over time.

Let’s talk money. Along with grants from The Merchants Fund, thePhiladelphia Department of Commerce has a wonderful program: the Storefront Improvement Program (SIP). City Council recently voted general fund dollars to grow the SIP fund.   Local companies hire locally, recycle dollars in the local economy (including taxes), and make Philadelphia a city of shopkeepers. Check out SIP and see if your business qualifies.

Let’s talk recognition. The Community Design Collaborative and the Philadelphia Department of Commerce will be highlighting Philly’s best storefront facade improvement projects through its Storefront Challenge. If you’ve fixed a storefront façade within the past two years, or know and love a business that has, nominate it for a Storefront Challenge award by September 15th.

During her 35-year career in the nonprofit sector, Patricia Blakely has led projects for an impressive range of area organizations, including the Charles Ellis Trust, the White-Williams Scholars program, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and others. She holds a Master’s Degree in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania and a B.A. in the History of Art from Bryn Mawr College. She is a dedicated urbanist who gets lost when she is off the grid.



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