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Denver is offering businesses rent-free space and $20,000 in services to open up downtown

Denver is paying businesses to open up in disused retail spaces downtown.

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  • Denver will pick five businesses to open pop-up shops with free rent as well as services worth $20,000.
  • The initiative is designed to bring disused storefronts in the downtown area back to life.
  • The so-called “retail apocalypse” started more than a decade ago.

Denver is paying businesses to open up in disused retail spaces as it seeks to revive its downtown area.

The city will pick five businesses to open pop-up shops with free rent as well as services worth $20,000.

The initiative by the city’s Department of Economic Development and Opportunity and the Downtown Denver Partnership is designed to “activate inactive storefronts in Denver’s most prominent commercial district,” Popup Denver says on its website, noting that there are more vacant spaces in the area than usual.

The Denver program comes as some commercial districts in US cities struggle with a so-called “retail apocalypse” , which started more than a decade ago, after the 2008 financial crisis and a surge in e-commerce forced bricks-and-mortar stores to close.

Closures have continued during the pandemic, with even more Americans turning to online shopping as retailers and restaurants shut during waves of lockdowns. Alongside coronavirus restrictions, retailers have also been hit by labor shortages and inflation that have caused them to limit their hours and raise their prices.

Investment bank UBS said that it expected roughly 80,000 stores across the US to close between 2021 and 2026. Chains that have announced store closures include CVS, Gap, Banana Republic, and Macy’s.

The Denver initiative is offering sites previously occupied by Krispy Kreme, Starbucks, TCF Bank, Aveda Salon, and Colorado chain Moe’s Broadway Bagel. Four of the sites are being offered as retail spaces, while one is being reserved for a business that wants to use the space for an “art activation.”

The five businesses who participate in the program’s pilot stage will get a storefront on 16th Street Mall “at a significantly reduced cost” for at least three months, the website says. This means they won’t pay base rent and will just pay for operating expenses like utilities, common area maintenance, and taxes.

The businesses will also get $20,000 each “in interior design, setup, and merchandising support,” and will star in a marketing campaign by the Downtown Denver Partnership.

“This is a program that’s designed to give them a runway to success,” Sarah Wiebenson, senior manager of economic development at the Downtown Denver Partnership, told Fox 31. “And our ultimate goal is for the tenants that are selected for these spaces to really convert to long-term lease-paying tenants for participating property owners.”

Popup Denver says it will select the businesses through a “competitive process” and is looking for businesses that would bring something new and unique to the district.

To be eligible, businesses have to be at least 12 months old, be registered with the State of Colorado, have fewer than 25 full-time equivalent employees, generate less than $2 million in annual gross revenues, and be “in good standing” with all taxing authorities.

Businesses have to apply by 5 p.m. MST on March 4, and Popup Denver aims to open the five spaces by June 1.

The Department of Economic Development and Opportunity and the Downtown Denver Partnership say they are “actively engaging” with property owners in the area to launch a phase-two program in July 2022 if the pilot is successful.

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