San Francisco is preparing to put to public vote next week a new law that would put a new tax on property owners or leaseholders whose storefronts stay vacant for six months or more. If approved, this would be a first for a big city in the US.
I have long thought this is an approach that the Village of Larchmont should or could take in dealing with the many instances the last ten years where storefronts have stayed empty for prolonged periods. Palmer Avenue in particular has at times appeared pretty bleak in the last ten years, defying the logic that a walkable commercial area close to a train station should have viable businesses.
But I believe that while a penalizing tax could be one approach, there could be an alternative approach which would hopefully unleash a bit more creativity and life on our commercial streets.
Larchmont should contemplate requiring owners or long-term leaseholders of storefronts that are empty for more than, for example, 4 months to offer month-to-month leases for basically no cost to arts groups to display/ sell art; or to non-profit thrift shops that support area community charities; or to non-profit education groups to offer classes of some kind; or to musicians to give occasional performances. The law might also provide that landlords could aim to generate some actual rent by offering low-cost month-to-month rentals to pop-up stores, food shops, or restaurants.
I suspect there are plenty of small business owners/managers out there who would be happy to have an opportunity to test out their offerings in a wealthy community like Larchmont for a short time at relatively low financial cost and without the risk of having to commit to long leases.
The Village council could even stay involved by establishing an application process or even opening up to public hearings some of the discussions relating to what groups or promoters might be given month-to-month arrangements, since this would in effect be a form of forced subsidy.