Ugly Empty Storefronts Hurt Downtown Menlo Park. Temporary Art Installations Would Make A Huge Difference | Creating A More Vibrant Menlo Park | Dana Hendrickson | Almanac Online |

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By Dana Hendrickson

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About this blog: My wife and I moved to central Menlo Park in 1985 where we have raised two sons. A retired high-tech executive, I now actively participate in local and national community service programs. I am the founder and director of Rebuil...  (More)

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Ugly Empty Storefronts Hurt Downtown Menlo Park. Temporary Art Installations Would Make A Huge Difference

Uploaded: May 10, 2021
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My purpose in writing this post is to ask Menlo Park residents to email their district city council members and tell them they (a) are upset with the dozen empty storefronts on Santa Cruz Avenue, (b) are no longer willing to simply wait for this problem to fix itself, and (c) want city leaders to eliminate this blight now by supporting and encouraging temporary art installations. The unattractive storefronts visually mar downtown, hurt existing retailers and discourage the arrival of new ones. This is not a new problem; about as many existed before the pandemic, when the local economy was booming. However, now Individual vacancies typically persist (e.g., the former location of Village Stationers has remained empty since August 2019). Property sales prices and leases downtown are expensive. Also, due to the pandemic, some existing downtown retailers are now financially hanging by their nails and could fail this year.




Existing Vacancies





Potential Solutions

Temporary art installations would greatly improve the appearances of vacant storefronts, and these could be easily, quickly and inexpensively implemented IF building owners supported them. Unfortunately, property owners and managers lack any economic incentives to fix the problem, and both appear unmotivated by goodwill. The Chamber of Commerce reports that it has repeatedly attempted to discuss possible solutions and have largely been ignored. This means our city council needs to strongly encourage property owners to support a temporary art installation program.

While the city cannot require owner participation, it can recommend three options for onsite installations and consider a fourth one that does not require access to private property.

Option 1 – High quality art, exhibitions or collectibles are displayed inside storefronts. Individual installations could change every 4 to 6 weeks to keep them fresh and would be viewable both in the daytime and evening. This option offers the best opportunities for displaying different kinds of art and existing works could be used. Installations could be installed quickly – likely within 30 days of building owner approval.

Option 2 – Banners are suspended inside storefront windows. These could be created with digital images, e.g., storefront illustrations. These would not be exposed to weather and other potential damage.



Option 3 – Vinyl images are affixed to the outside of storefront windows. These would be exposed to weather and other potential damage.

Contingent Option – An Image is mounted on a panel supported by temporary, free-standing posts installed on a sidewalk close to the front of the building. The image could represent the actual storefront but show an open business. (Note: think of the screens used on the popular TV series Fixer Upper to reveal a renovated home to its owners.) The installation would screen an entire storefront but not impede pedestrians.



My Recommendation

1. I strongly prefer Option 1 over the other three.

2. I dislike the Contingent option, but it might be the only solution if an individual building owner rejected the others.

A small team of community volunteers including art professionals could be responsible for all installations. I have already identified a well-respected art and exhibition curator, an artist and gallery representative and other residents who want to help. I would assist them. Private funding could pay most of the costs.

In general, building owners would be required to select an option and permit an onsite installation within 90 days after a property has become vacant.

The installations would remain in-place until a new tenant moves in.

The city would install and remove the screen posts associated with the Contingent option.. It’s possible that murals could be installed on removable panels and be reused at other vacant storefronts in the future.

Let's Lift Downtown With Art

Downtown Menlo Park is slowly and steadily recovering from COVID-19. New European-style outdoor dining is popular at Bistro Vida, Left Bank, ROMA, Galata Bistro, Camper and Carpaccio, and several have introduced live music at night. Two new specialty businesses have opened on Santa Cruz Avenue. Pedago sells electric bikes and 360 Fitness offers an excellent selection of personal fitness equipment. Shaded tables donated by the owner of Bistro Vida now provide lots of new seating in the temporary community plaza in front of Walgreen’s and Starbuck’s, and public social activities like wine tasting are already in the works. Also, our city recently installed new lighting which brightens the entire length of main street at night.

These positive changes signal that downtown can become much more vibrant and appealing than before the pandemic. Let’s not let ugly empty storefonts spoil it.

Please ask our city council to eliminate this blight now.

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Dana
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Comments

 +   10 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills,
on May 11, 2021 at 5:13 pm

Joseph E. Davis is a registered user.

This suggestion is akin to plastering a small bandaid over a gaping wound. Why are these storefronts empty for such long periods? I suggest that part of the problem is a city council that has gleefully participated in the destruction of Santa Cruz Avenue as a convenient place to visit and shop with a confusing set of street barriers. This is part of their love affair with the almighty bicycle and their dreams of recreating a European town square that they no doubt enjoyed on their frequent international travels. Why would anyone want to open a shop in downtown Menlo Park with a city council that is so cavalier about and dismissive of the realities of running a business there? Who knows what scheme they will invent next? Maybe the road will be open on weekdays, except for alternate Tuesdays, unless you're going to El Camino. Or maybe not, depending on the mood of a handful of council members. There's just no saying in the carnival of incompetent governance that sadly hampers Menlo Park.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by District 2 Constituent , a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle,
on May 11, 2021 at 11:17 pm

District 2 Constituent is a registered user.

I continue to appreciate Dana's investment in supporting our struggling downtown. While art exhibits sound great, I'd rather see (and actively participate in) a group/committee focused on targeting new businesses to Santa Cruz avenue. Art exhibits are a temporary solution. Let's put our energy into longterm solutions. New business!!


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Twentse, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks,
on May 12, 2021 at 3:44 pm

Twentse is a registered user.

Maybe the owners of the buildings need to lower their rents so business have a chance?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Twentse, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks,
on May 12, 2021 at 3:45 pm

Twentse is a registered user.

I meant "businesses".


 +   5 people like this
Posted by pogo, a resident of Woodside: other,
on May 14, 2021 at 10:53 am

pogo is a registered user.

Menlo's few empty storefronts became a much bigger problem during the pandemic. Art to make it "look better?" Seriously? These businesses have been decimated by decisions to close/open/close/partially open/close/open (rightly or wrongly) and people's life savings and life long efforts to build a business have been lost. How would you feel if that was your investment or your life's work? How about patronizing businesses instead of putting pretty pictures over the empty windows?


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