I live in Lexington, MA. The town was recently cited as one of the most walkable Boston suburbs. Downtown has been a bit torn up for the last year or so as the Battle Green Inn was torn down and a new complex with condos and retail space is going up in its stead. It all looks like it is going to be beautiful when it is done.
Meanwhile, right next door, sharing a parking lot, sits a big empty retail space. Most recently it was a Cohoes store. Before that it was a Decelle’s. It is one of the largest retail spaces in the center. The Cohoes store has been gone for more than a year now and the space just sits there, vacant.
Now, obviously, with all the construction going on, taking up most of the site’s parking lot, that space is probably going to be empty for a while, especially in this economy. But does it have to sit empty? If I am the building’s owner, wouldn’t I love to get something out of the place, rather than just having it sit there?
When I walk past the store, I can imagine the space full of small tables or push carts, selling crafts. Or let it be the off-season or rain date home of the Farmer’s market. Or, how about the site of a charity ball or silent auction? Or a place for toddlers and moms to meet on rainy days and run around — I’ll bet a nearby nursery school or church might be persuaded to manage it . (Anyone remember TotStop in Arlington?) Hey, CNS Real Estate (if you’re still responsible for the property), how about it? Anything but letting it gather dust. Maybe these users won’t be able to commit to an eight year lease, or plunk down the big rents but the place has been empty for more than a year now. What do you think?
There are all kinds of innovative things we can do in today’s economy, rather than shutting down, giving up or pulling the plug completely. The event I created for the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation is a good example of this. Mass Innovation Nights fills up the museum on a night it would otherwise be empty, with a crowd of folks who just might be happy to come back on the weekends with their kids, or plan an event in the space for their company, buy a membership or even drop a couple of dollars in the donation box to help keep the lights on.
And, maybe a full-time job isn’t in the cards for you right now but you can piece together enough work with multiple clients to keep paying the mortgage and put food on the table. I talk to so many fantastic people who are out of work right now that it is tempting to start a company just to employ them all. I’m hoping that Mass Innovation Nights lives up to its promise and we manage to do more than connect companies and products. I hope we can connect a few people with jobs too by using the same innovative thinking that inspired the event in the first place.