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If Business Is Booming, Why Is Main Street America Still Full of Empty Storefronts?

Whether or not you have a retail store, you've seen the problem: Storefronts are shuttered on streets nationwide. And when one store closes, others will follow. How do we fix it?

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This story appears in the December 2018 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

The sun was still out on Wednesday, June 26, 2013, as Kymberli Brady snipped the ribbon officially marking her store’s grand opening in downtown San Jose, Calif. Hundreds of people -- including the mayor and vice mayor, she remembers -- gathered outside on South 1st Street for an evening of food, drink, gifts, and performance. Brady’s sheer, unadulterated love for the city had led her to this moment. Having lost her job at the Chamber of Commerce in the fall of 2009, in part due to the financial crisis, she’d seen an opportunity in the city’s new plastic-bag ban and sunk her last $5,000 into creating totes covered with her photos of San Jose. Brady’s “city bags” were so profitable that she’d been able to lease a former Verizon Wireless storefront for $2,700 a month and expand her “fiercely local” idea. She called her store Discover San Jose (DSJ to regulars) and laid it out like an outdoor market, complete with street signs -- eventually, it became a hub for more than 80 local artists, photographers, authors, and musicians and sold everything from crystal wind chimes to tech-centric jewelry and historical books. Close to restaurants, a movie theater, and the light-rail stop for San Jose State University, DSJ even held events like steampunk costume nights for San Jose authors, community painting exhibits, and monthly hangouts for musicians. 

Max-O-Matic

The night of the ribbon-cutting, as the Silicon Valley Roller Girls skated past balloons, Brady, flanked by the fully costumed mascots of the San Jose Sharks and Earthquakes, gave a speech that was met with cheers and the collective snap of smartphone cameras. Things seemed to be looking up for downtown retail -- and for Brady. Customers came immediately, bringing DSJ more than $20,000 in revenue its first December, she said. 

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