Downtown Revitalization: Store Facades and Formats

Improving Downtown Store Facades

Why Facades Are Important. Improving the external appearance of downtown buildings can be an important element of a comprehensive downtown revitalization strategy:

  • A lot of shoppers feel that if a store’s facade looks unappealing, then the merchandise inside also will be distasteful. Of course, if the merchandise inside a shop is unappealing, then a facade improvement will have far less positive impact.
  • A downtown with many good-looking facades is more likely to be perceived by visitors as a charming and safe shopping center. They consequently will be more inclined to return.
  • Quality retailers and restaurateurs do not want to locate near buildings with facades that are unattractive or in poor condition.
Caution. Too many downtown leaders wrongly assume that improved building facades, street lighting, sidewalks and street furniture will by themselves assure their district’s economic revival. Instead, they find that their districts are “decorated coffins:” very pretty , but still very dead, with little customer traffic. The aforementioned physical improvements are most likely to have positive impacts when the downtown can also offer attractive suitably-sized commercial spaces, adequate transportation access, security and strong market potentials.
Getting The Landlords or Business Operators To Make The Improvements. Many downtown organizations and city governments offer some sort of incentive package aimed at stimulating landlords or business owners to improve the external appearances of their buildings. DANTH, as both a consultant and as the manager of downtown districts, has been involved with a number of such programs. For example, DANTH designed and helped put into operation the Jump Start Facade Improvement Program for the Bayonne Town Center Management Corporation. Although the City of Bayonne had a facade program that offered generous financial incentives, few of the existing businesses within the Town Center district were utilizing it. DANTH’s challenge was to find out why participation was so low and then to create a program that would help merchants overcome the existing obstacles. Our conversations with merchants indicated that they:
  • Had no idea of what their facade might look like
  • Also had no idea of how much the improvements might cost them
  • Knew little or nothing about the materials and colors that might be used
  • Did not know any architects or contractors
  • Were too busy with their daily business activities to find the answers they needed
  • Consequently were not ready to apply to the City’s facade program.
Click here for more information about the Jump Start Program and its results.

Downtown Friendly Retail Chain Store Formats/Designs

Downtown leaders frequently confront a retail chain, developer or landlord who insists on using a store design/format that is more appropriate to a highway corridor or that otherwise violates commonly held design standards for downtown storefronts.

This slideshow shows that many, many retail chains have formats and facade designs that are much more downtown friendly, some even are very much so. Hopefully, some downtown leaders will find these photos of value when they argue on behalf of more downtown friendly designed retail stores.