The Storefront Improvement Program offered by the Department of Commerce to improve façades of businesses has only been used by two businesses along the Cecil B. Moore Avenue commercial corridor.
Giana Lawrence, the Storefront Improvement Program manager, said Mayor Kenney pitched an allocation of $600,000 to this program in his budget last month, meaning the money will mainly come from the city instead of varying vendors.
The SIP is a way for businesses to improve their storefronts and increase visibility. The city will reimburse up to 50 percent of the cost of eligible improvements, up to $10,000 for a single-property owner and $15,000 for a corner business property.
The services for the SIP include painting exteriors, installation of lighting outside stores and handicap ramps to store entrances, Lawrence said. Other available improvements include signage, exterior doors, security grills and windows, according to the Department of Commerce’s SIP guidelines.
All commercially occupied properties and operating tenant businesses located in the City of Philadelphia are eligible, excluding industrial and office businesses.
The two businesses that have used the SIP are Federal Distilling at 1700 N. Hancock St. and Triangle Coin Wash Laundromat located at 1927 Ridge Ave. The Cecil B. Moore corridor stretches from the 1400 block of Cecil B. Moore to the 2300 block, Lawrence said.
Matt Quigley, owner of Federal Distilling—which has been open since fall 2014—said he applied to increase visibility of his store.
“Who doesn’t like free money?” Quigley said. “We were anticipating doing these renovations anyway so when we found out about this, it was great. I’ve never gotten money from the city for anything so it was like a no-brainer.”
Federal Distilling’s facelift included the addition of a 12-foot-by-12-foot window, exterior light fixtures and painting of the façade. The whole project cost $17,000 and the city reimbursed Quigley more than $12,000 for the work his business had done.
The whole application and renovation process from start to finish took Quigley 6 months and more than 40 hours of paperwork to complete, he said.
“For anyone who’s trying to obtain a grant, you’ve got to push a lot of paper,” he added.
Both Quigley and Walker Gilmore, owner of Triangle Coin Wash, said they learned about the program through contractors and not city government.
Gilmore is currently working on his second application for a handicap ramp for his company. His first application earned him a grant to pay for the entire cost of an awning and painting of the façade of the building.
“I think it’s a great program for the city,” Gilmore said. “It’s just that I don’t know how well they’re doing getting the money out there on the streets.”
Gilmore added he could understand why the program hasn’t been used more throughout Philadelphia.
“A lot of times small businesses are reluctant to spend money on capital improvements that aren’t directly related to the business,” Gilmore said. “So installing exterior lighting and an awning might not necessarily drum up more business. If you have a slightly tired old pizza joint and people keep coming there because you’re the best deal on the block, then you may not want to spend $3,000 on an awning because it may not seem mission critical.”
The SIP is meant to help improve the exterior of individual businesses, which can attract more customers, Lawrence said.
Gilmore said he is a fan of programs like SIP.
“I think that it’s really important particularly to support existing businesses in corridors that are either distressed or are changing,” he said. “Rather than having the private market drive it all, supporting existing folks to stay in place and succeed in a changing marketplace is important.”
Gillian McGoldrick can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @gill_mcgoldrick.