City Explores How to Address Vacant Storefronts

vacant storefront

The Community Development Department is working with an external consulting firm to reduce the number of vacant storefronts throughout the city.

Cambridge has a relatively low vacant storefront rate, 1.7 percent to Greater Boston’s 2.7 percent, according to Director of Economic Development Lisa Hemmerle.

But despite the low numbers, Cambridge Local First Executive Director Adriane Musgrave explains that empty storefronts have a significant impact on the community.

“It’s been something that has been bubbling for a while, but it’s just been so prevalent, I think, that it’s starting to boil over,” Musgrave says. “It’s [an issue] that lots of residents care about, and more and more residents are discovering that they need to care about, or should care about, because the storefronts that you see have a huge impact on quality of life and having a vibrant, healthy neighborhood.”

The city aims to put together a report based on its research sometime this summer, according to Hemmerle. The vacant storefronts initiative is part of the city’s Retail Strategy Plan, she says.

Cambridge Local First is working with the city on the probe. Musgrave explains that launching a business in Cambridge can be challenging not just because of high rents, but also due to difficult permit processes.

“Cambridge, within the business community, has a reputation of being really, really hard to navigate as a new business owner,” she says. “We’re in the process of working with city councilors and city staff to improve the licensing and permitting process for business owners.”

Musgrave adds that she hopes to learn from other cities, noting Davis Square’s low vacancy rate. She also explains that Arlington established a bylaw where commercial property owners whose spaces are vacant have to register with the city in an effort to increase communication.

Cambridge Local First gathered feedback about vacant storefronts from residents, businesses, and property owners earlier this summer.

“It’s everything from sadness to frustration to anger, to see your city change so much, and to see a lot of anchor businesses or anchor spaces just be unused,” she says. “They want to understand why this is happening, what can we do about it.”