They seem to be everywhere. Windows covered in brown paper. Barren shops dotting an otherwise vibrant street.
Vacant stores are a somber fact of life in Cleveland Heights as of late, like many communities, and while the city waits for an economic turnaround and more businesses to move in, Heights Arts has an idea to make the streetscape come alive.
The idea is to put a banner in the windows of vacant storefronts, replacing the drab paper or other covering hung by property owners with artistic photographs of the area, rent info as well as a map feature that indicates business locations along the street.
“The economy’s been so bad, and small businesses have been hurt,” said Andrea Joki, program director with Heights Arts. “Instead of inactive storefronts, we’d dress the windows themselves. It gives people something else to look at instead of brown paper.”
The photos, taken by Heights Arts staff, would capture each business district’s unique character. Vacant shops in the Cedar Lee neighborhood might have a photo of the Cedar Lee Theatre, while passersby in Cedar Fairmount could be greeted by renditions of the artwork that adorns the side of buildings there. The photos would be voted on by members of committees that represent each business district.
“People are tired of seeing windows with brown paper in it,” said Tom Fello, owner of Tommy’s Restaurant in Coventry and a proponent of the idea. “Instead of showing them this store is boarded up we can show them, ‘Here, this is what’s happening in the street,’ or ‘here is what’s happening in the district.’
“It’s a better way of marketing the district and turning a negative into a positive. It’s a very simple, low-cost way of doing that.”
Heights Arts would charge property owners $350, which includes the design, production and installation of the banner. The organization is also in the process of looking for grants to help subsidize some of the cost.
John Zagara, owner of Zagara’s Marketplace, called the idea a “no-brainer.”
“There’s nothing worse than looking into a vacant store and seeing darkness and a place that hasn’t been cleaned in months,” he said. “This is something to catch the eye.”
Zagara said the art would not only grab the attention of a possible suitor to lease the store, but would also entice possible customers, getting them to stop just long enough to check out the art and maybe glance at a few stores while they’re at it.
The project is still in its early stages, said Joki, and Heights Arts is still meeting with business district committees to discuss designs and gauge the level of interest.