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Friday, September 23, 2011

Tons of Empty Storefronts? Well, sort of...

I'm reading a book right now called Life Inc. and it would suggest to me that 80% of you are going to be mad I am posting this. The other 20% are the ones that actually seek change. Our short term property value problem is going to become our long term property value problem if we don't start to embrace some key issues and get creative on how to resolve them. 

Kevin Sampson asked if I would post an editorial about his recent trials and tribulations in trying to open a store in Downtown Lynn. Here is what he has to say:


Guest post from local resident and once potential downtown business owner, Kevin Sampson

Earlier this year I set out to secure commercial space in downtown Lynn for a business that I planned to open. I had toyed with the idea of opening my own business for years but it seemed like the stars were finally aligned. I was meeting the right people, making the right connections, finding investors, gathering the support of local city officials and had a wonderful team of friends and neighbors supporting me and working with me to make my dream become a reality. Everything was going well until the search for commercial space began.

Take a quick walk around downtown Lynn and one would easily surmise that there are tons of options. Just ask the VNA. According to them and others, additional retail space at our gateway was unnecessary given how many empty store fronts we have in the downtown. I guess I was naïve because I honestly expected to find a space relatively easily. Boy was I wrong.

The spaces that are available in my opinion are class C at best. Downtown Lynn does not have any class A commercial spaces and class B would be a generous evaluation for most. The empty spaces are in shambles. What do I mean by that? I mean, no HVAC systems, no functioning bathroom, improper means of egress, faulty electrical work, non-secure access, improper fire wall separation, deteriorating floors…..

When spaces are so below code or just require a HUGE amount of work just to get it clean what kind of businesses are they going to attract? Certainly not the kind of businesses that most every resident I speak to who lives in DTL are hoping for. I don’t expect landlords to roll out the red carpet but I would expect at the very least that they have the space UP TO CITY CODE. I expect landlords to make their properties attractive to potential business. If you go to sell your house you stage it. You don’t white out the windows, leave graffiti on the façade, or keep piles of trash in the space. I guess you do if you don’t want your house to ever sell.

 I think landlords have a lot of nerve to expect a potential tenant to put tens of thousands of dollars of improvements into their spaces JUST to bring it up to code so that the space is eligible for an occupancy permit. I don’t expect a landlord to do any special build out, or lighting, or signage or any of the usual things a business does to outfit a space. Of course that is the responsibility of the business who is seeking to open. But I do expect landlords to have their spaces up to code and present a blank canvas to potential tenants who can then put their mark on the space with the build out. I think it is deplorable to have a landlord say, “I’d rather keep the space empty and wait for someone else to bring it up to code”. I am glad EDIC is working so hard to develop DTL. It will be years, if ever, before someone comes along and says, “Sure I will spend $30k+ just to bring a space up to code”.

The quality of the spaces is not the only issue. I was really unhappy with the lack of what I consider to be ethical business practices. I don’t do deals under the table. I don’t appreciate property managers not being up front with information about spaces. I don’t appreciate real estate agents not being honest about whom they are representing (me or the landlord).  All of those situations left a bad taste in my mouth.

So if you are willing to deal with some of the ethical ambiguity, if you are willing and able to spend huge sums of money to get a space safe and functional, if you are ready to take a risk of opening a new business in a downturned economy in a city that has been fighting a nasty reputation, then you get the reward of paying in some cases $13-15 per square foot. That’s the kicker! I am amazed at the rent prices for the area. A trusted real estate professional had shared with me that based on market value a reasonable price per square foot should be $10-11 at most.

I used to wonder why most businesses didn’t come to downtown Lynn. After my experience I understand why. I wonder how many other people like me tried and gave up when they realized just how terrible the inventory is.

20 comments:

  1. Thanks, Kevin. I'm glad that people will learn about your experience and that this situation is being brought to light. I couldn't resist making it a "Lynn Blogs." On this issue, I am not publicly neutral.

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  2. Well, it's election season. Can't think of a better time to bring all this stuff up. Demand real answers and pledges from the candidates.

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  3. It has come to my attention that there may be some confusion as to who I was referring to when I made comment regarding real estate agents not acting in the most ethical and professional manner. 

    I'd like to clear this up and state for the record that this comment was in no way directed at Soraya or Nest Forward. Soraya and her company was one of the shining beacons through this entire experience. I could not have asked for a more professional and dedicated real estate agent. Soraya went above and beyond to help me navigate the tricky terrain during this process and I trust her completely!I have and will continue to recommend anyone to Nest Forward.

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  4. It was clear to me you were referencing the landlords and their agents not yours. We need to get them to the table. Enough with the way Lynn works today. It's broken and sometimes very shady. We need to start over. Get the list of issues on the table and figure out how we're going to dig out.   Otherwise, we'll be saying hello to more churches, dollar stores, and markets. Not things we need more of.

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  5. welcome to DTL ! Now you know why it's a filthy , ratty  place.

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  6. We think quite the opposite about our downtown and that's why we want to figure this one out.

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  7. This is frustrating and disheartening at the same time.  So in order to bring in more residents we have been always told that we need more services (ie, coffee shops, restaurants, stores)  and that more services/ businesses are needed to bring in more businesses.

    But when businesses/services can't open because of below code properties who's fault is that.  I'm not 100% familiar with the MA Building Code / Lynn Bylaws but the property owner should have some responsibility here.  What can Inspectional services do or should be doing?  If nothing then we have a problem and I guess pressure from city officials and residents and other business owners would be the next logical step.

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  8. I have harping on this for years... DTL should be marketed like it is an enclosed mall:  anchor stores, consistent up-to-code spaces, curb appeal... where are the suits who should be doing this?

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  9. What business was Kevin looking to open up?  There are a lot of new businesses in Lynn.  I cannot help but think that unless a hipster opens up a shop you guys won't be happy.  

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  10. If a yuppie doesnt have the money to being these places up to code, Hipsters don't have the money either.

    There has been a lot of great stuff open over the past 4 years. Kevin's point is current inventory.

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  11. What was Kevin business and did he end up opening up elsewhere? 
    Lynn offers so many great opportunities with low rent.  You need to work to make your space yours.  Take a look at Urban Elements.  She came in and rehabbed some amazing space that now benefits the Blue Ox.  

    Some new clothing stores have opened up in Lynn in the Center and seem to be doing well.  

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  12. I don't know who flagged you, but it wasn't me. Glad it gave me the option to still make these live.

    Hoping Kevin can answer the question on the issues with the space where the new clothing store and dollar store is. I think it was AC buildout and the size of the space. It wasn't divided into two store fronts as it looks now.

    Urban Elements is an interesting example although it had to close and move to Salem so not sure it is a model we want to follow going forward. It also was a very nice storefront to begin with.

    The point here is unless landlords chip in a bit on improving
    their spaces to bring in business that isn't another dollar store or market, we're stuck. Understanding landlords are in the same economy as all of us, I think it's a problem where the city is going to have to actively engage and help both sides.

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  13. Correct Corey! Sadly so many new businesses fail.  Landlords of commercial property are hesitant to invest in a renovations for someones pipe dream. And businesses vary so much.  What may work for one prospective tenant may not for another.  (This would not apply to office space in most cases)  Take a look at the fish store that was open on Monroe for a month or so.  A great idea but...it failed.  So unless someone opening a business has deep pockets and plans to front expenses for a long while its so tough.  Community involvement would be great. This market has effected everyone.  Spending 30k is a drop in the bucket. 

    As we speak I am working with the MRHA, the city and a few other friends in setting up a nonprofit for landlords.  So hopefully in the next few weeks I'll be able to get you more info.  

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  14. This is a very enlightening article. But more important than 'whose fault is it' should be 'OK, so what are we going to do to FIX it' ? I've lived in the North Shore for most of my adult life, and I remember what downtown Salem was like 15 years ago... It can be done. A city can turn around, we just have to bring real solutions to the table. How can we encourage use of Brownfields Redevelopment Fund or SBA 504 loan, federal rehabilitation tax credits, or just bringing in the state goverment to help??

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  15. would love to hear more and get involved if possible. Shoot me an email offline and tell me more.

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  16. I've been trying to get some people in the political sphere to pull together a meeting of the minds including landlords to get the list of issues on the table. Maybe we do know all the issues, but I want to hear from them why they can't get these things up to spec and moving in the right direction.   I'm sure some of them are buried and need legit help, others are lazy, some are just outright neglecting or have de-prioritized their commitment to Lynn.

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  17. All you will get is empty promises , local government doesnt care i've lived here 01901 for 17 years and seen what doesnt happen. good luck!! I hope you loftlivers can get something done.!!

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  18. what is your email? feel free to email me as well ...after the holiday we are full gusto...I am up on some of the state sites now.  

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