The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the number of vacant commercial units in the City of Boston, adding to the units that have been vacant years. Councilors Mejia and Bok, in partnership with community advocates Derrel Weathers and Jacob Leidolf, have filed an ordinance to start tracking vacant commercial units and give hopeful new business owners a more representative view of what the city has to offer for commercial property.
The idea to find better ways to track and monitor vacant commercial properties came from advocates Weathers and Leidolf, who hope to see this measure as a means to create avenues for smaller entrepreneurs to set up shop in brick-and-mortar storefronts. “A lot of the places that were for rent in Boston in 2011 are still for rent today! In that time period those landlords still haven’t found a single tenant because…they’ll let that place sit empty and won’t lower their rent,” said Weathers. There is currently no clear way of tracking these vacancies in order to create economic opportunities within them. Establishing a database by using readily available data, such as POS machines and 311 calls, is the first step in the plan for small business development in the neighborhoods that have been most devastated by the pandemic.
“As a lifelong Bostonian, a small business owner and above all, someone who loves my community, I think it is essential for the city to invest in our local entrepreneurs and incubate and support homegrown businesses. One way we can do this is by filling empty storefronts with local businesses,” said Leidolf. “In Boston, the city does not currently track commercial vacancies. With this ordinance we will collect the data we need to make strategic investments and partnerships in our community, turning those vacant storefronts into accessible, affordable and thriving centers of local commerce.”
“By identifying vacant commercial units, we can begin matching property owners with vacancies with local small businesses,” added Councilor Bok. “I’m hopeful we can help a diverse set of local entrepreneurs have a place in our city’s economy.”
Vacant storefronts are an opportunity to create space for start-up entrepreneurs who have historically lacked access to physical spaces. Entrepreneurs who may grow out of their Retail Residential Kitchen that Mejia’s office recently made possible, pop-up businesses and small business owners will all benefit from a database of this kind. “By knowing the scope of the problem, we are better able to direct attention, funding, and programming to help small businesses thrive,” said Councilor Mejia.