Help on vacant storefronts: Northampton secures state designation to provide tax incentives for new businesses

By BRIAN STEELE

Staff Writer

Published: 09-26-2022 8:56 PM

NORTHAMPTON — In an effort to fill up some of the vacant storefronts that dot the downtown landscape, the city and state have partnered to offer tax credits to new businesses that open in certain spaces that are currently sitting empty.

The city’s application to designate much of downtown as a Certified Vacant Storefront District was approved on Thursday in a unanimous vote of the state’s Economic Assistance Coordinating Council, the office of Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra said, opening the door for $20,000 in tax relief for two new businesses each year.

Interested businesses would apply to the EACC and, if approved, would receive a maximum of $10,000 in tax credits from the city and up to $10,000 in matching state relief each year. Greenfield, Holyoke and Ware also participate in the vacant storefront district program.

“I’m grateful that Northampton has been accepted to this new program and has successfully established a Municipal Vacant Storefront District,” Sciarra said on Monday. “I know that small business startups need all the help they can get, which is why I am committed to using every available tool to encourage new business in our city, particularly in spaces that have sat empty for more than a year.”

Asked for examples, the mayor’s office provided a list of some of the vacant storefronts on Main, State and Pleasant streets. The shops that formerly occupied those locations include Bruegger’s Bagels, Faces, Grub, Guild Art Supply, Serio’s, Spoleto and others.

The boundary of the new district is essentially the same as the area zoned as the city’s central business district. According to the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, the designated area contains 198 storefronts, 35 of which — about 18% — have been vacant for more than a year, while seven more are approaching a year of vacancy.

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The GoBerry location on Main Street remains empty since it closed in January and a sign in the window advertises the space for lease. The old Banh Mi Saigon was vacant until recently and is now the Pokemoto restaurant.

Wine Witch, the wine bar at 159 Main St., announced last week that it would permanently close after six months in business, saying in a Facebook post that “financial realities have resulted in this decision.”

Amy Cahillane, executive director of the Downtown Northampton Association, said the nonprofit has been tracking business openings and closures since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said a “staggering” 31 businesses have closed in downtown Northampton and Florence, but 39 have opened, and some vacant properties are more centrally located or prominent than others.

“We’re grateful that the city went through the hoops to qualify for the program,” Cahillane said, adding that it is more geared toward small businesses than the kind of enterprise that might eventually take over a multi-level space like the former Faces.

Also important to note, she said, is that some vacant storefronts are being rented by marijuana dispensaries still working their way through the state licensing process and that others may have tenants that have not publicly announced their intentions.

“We try to stay focused on events and beautification to create a downtown that’s attractive, so if you’re a prospective commercial tenant and you look around, you want to be here,” Cahillane said.

According to the EACC’s guidelines, an application for the tax credits can be denied if the business “does not fulfill a need or a void in the district.” The applications are competitive.

The vacant storefront program started in 2019. The tax credits are available through the Economic Development Incentive Program (EDIP), which is designed to stimulate job creation and business growth.

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.]]>