2016-09-29 / Front Page

Program offers vacant space tours

By Anthony Aloisio
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – Heart of Biddeford is trying a new strategy for matching small business owners with available business space. On Sept. 26 it offered the first of tours of various vacant spaces on Main Street, Alfred Street and Jefferson Street. HOB called the event the “Great Space Showcase.”

“Any Main Street store front that is vacant now, we contacted the property owner and asked them to fill out a property fact sheet,” said Delilah Poupore, HOB’s executive director.

HOB then used the responses to create a catalog of spaces that could be shown on the tour. It also organized the information into flyers, which HOB made available for interested business owners who showed up for the tour. Fliers included names and contact information of the owners, square footage, land use preference, cost figures, room configurations, available utilities and parking.

The tours themselves were run by volunteers. Which spaces the tour visited depended on the desires of prospective tenants.

“If we have a group of people who want to see all sorts, we’ll start and do a door-by-door,” Poupore said, “but if somebody says ‘I’m looking for only places with 3,000 square feet,’ we’re taking them to two locations.”

More than creating the isolated matches, Poupore said, the tours are about attracting attention to downtown Biddeford.

“It has this ripple effect – you try to do something positive, but then you hope that that grabs other people’s attention,” she said.

There is a constant need to attract small businesses, Poupore said, because the failure rate is so high. According to a 2012 report by the Small Business Administration, a national entity, only two in three new businesses with employees survive to two years.

Another objective of the tours is to facilitate “pop-up” stores for the approaching holiday season. Pop-up stores typically mean a business operating on a short-term lease.

According to Poupore, there are three important reasons that pop-up stores are desirable in developing a downtown.

“One is to showcase the space, (another) is to give the business a chance to do some market research, and the third reason is that pop-ups tend to create buzz,” she said.

The tours on Sept. 26 generated interest in at least one new pop-up store, Poupore said. Five people in total took the tours that day.

Properties on the tour not only included storefronts, but also office space. They included 5 Alfred St., 265 Main St., 17 Alfred St., 299 Main St., 47 Main St., 275 through 281 Main St., 235 Main St., 40 Main St., 65 Jefferson St., and 148 Main St.

The properties toured represent a small portion of the area that HOB works to support. That area includes 112 spaces, according to Poupore, although that only counts the spaces represented by the renewed mill – which has the capacity for dozens of small businesses – as two spaces. The portion of vacant space in the downtown is difficult to quantify, but according to Brad Favreau, economic development and planning analyst for the city of Biddeford, there are 58 store front type spaces on Main Street between Alfred Street and Elm Street, and 10 of those are vacant. Of the vacant 10, eight were shown by HOB on Sept. 26.

In the future, HOB plans to hold more tours, said Poupore. It hopes to do one per month.

Contact Staff Writer Anthony Aloisio at news@inthecourier.com.

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