Program aims to fill San Jose's empty storefronts

SAN JOSE, Calif.

An empty storefront downtown was transformed into a co-working space and vendors sold locally-made art, jewelry, and clothing as part of the celebration.

Entrepreneur Susan Rits came all the way from Redwood City to meet other innovators and share ideas. "We don't have anything like this, so I thought I'd come down and give it a shot, and it's very cool," said Rits.

The event is part of Startup San Jose, an experiment in what the city would be like without all its empty storefronts. Twenty percent of downtown San Jose shops sit vacant.

Employees at family-owned Muchos Taqueria love that their block is being filled by the event, even if the pop-up stores are only temporary.

"The block is a little empty, and it seems like a ghost town over here on this side of downtown," said manager Carlos Zubizarreta.

City Councilman Sam Liccardo hopes to turn the two-day event into an everyday reality.

"We all recognize the impact that filling an empty storefront can have on a community. We know not only do we get jobs, we get revenue, but also we get a safer feeling out on the street," he said.

Liccardo has a plan he says would help the city's creative entrepreneurs get their small businesses going. The city would eliminate permitting fees for small businesses if landlords agree to lease a space at a discounted rate. The city council votes on that in a few weeks.

"We know once you get past these early steps, the momentum builds, and we know if we fill up a couple of empty storefronts, that other businesses nearby will benefit and start to grow," Liccardo said.

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