Storefronting the Money

Cramped entrepreneurs and empty storefronts, unite!

The person: For more than five years, Vicki Pozzebon served as executive director of the Santa Fe Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to cultivating and promoting Santa Fe’s local economy. Since stepping down in December 2011, Pozzebon has run an independent consulting business, Prospera Partners, through which she “practices bold localism.” SFR met Pozzebon at Junction, the new(ish), locally owned restaurant and bar in the Railyard, to discuss her big idea.

The plan: Match young entrepreneurs and artists with empty retail spaces to create more vibrant, mixed-use spaces around Santa Fe.

How it works: Pozzebon gestures behind her, across the Railyard to the emptyish building that houses Flying Star Café, REI and a couple of boutiques. A growing parade of empty retail fronts are popping up from the Plaza to the end of Cerrillos Road—evidence of the recession’s drag on local businesses, and particularly on those retail shops that depend on tourism, Pozzebon says. At the same time, she adds, the type of young entrepreneurship that could help jumpstart the economy isn’t happening.

"On the young entrepreneur front, I'm hearing people say, 'I'd love to start my own business, but I don't have any money; I can't find people to hire; I'm working right now; I'm working out of my garage,'" Pozzebon says. "What if we loosened some of the zoning [regulations]?...Let's just take a T-shirt [manufacturer], let them in a storefront and let it be their garage—experiment with it for a year."

Doing so, she says, would be a way for the city to reduce its dependency on tourism, while at the same time creating the kinds of mixed-use neighborhoods that appeal to tourists and locals alike.

"There are a couple of local landlords who would be interested in it because they are sitting empty," Pozzebon adds. She mentions one such landlord who has already done this: "Really, it was in his best interest to help an organization or small business be there and stay while the economy is bad instead of it being empty, so what about pooling resources to [give] the money to the landlords and say, 'Here's 20 grand…would you do it for 20 grand with the condition the occupants sign something [promising to return the space to its original condition]?'"

Certain obstacles remain, of course, since the plan would involve bucking convention (and probably a few city ordinances). One potential solution, Pozzebon says: “Get rid of the people that are on some [city] committees and start putting some young people on committees in this community.”

Bottom line: Revamping Santa Fe’s economy doesn’t necessarily need to involve reinventing it; instead, small steps like matching entrepreneurs with retail spaces can work. “It’s working in Detroit—cities that are bombed out, for god’s sake, and we’re not even that far gone,” Pozzebon says. “We just have empty retail, and people can’t afford to lease buildings right now, so come to some sort of agreement and compromise and…create some interest and buzz.”

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