Vacant Seattle storefronts get new life from art program



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Posted on March 15, 2012 at 6:48 AM

Updated Thursday, Mar 15 at 2:36 PM

SEATTLE -- Empty storefronts around Seattle are seeing new life, thanks to an art program called "Storefronts Seattle."

For example in the Chinatown-International District, there's about 65 vacant storefronts. Something business development groups and neighborhoods don't like to see, and are trying to fix with a short-term solution.

"We are bridging that gap until the next business, candy store, shoes store, next gallery permanently and successfully stay there. We're standing in there until the next person comes along," said Matthew Richter with Storefronts Seattle.

The project is spearheaded by Shunpike, a group founded in 2002 to support vitality in various Seattle neighborhoods. Here's how it works: Artists like Rian Robinson apply to show their work and test out a new business idea. In her case, she hand sews and sells scarves. For three months, she can try out her concept "Tuesday Scarves" at a formerly vacant store in the International District on Maynard Street rent-free.

"It's a concept store, which is something I wouldn't been able to start up on my own. It's a risk," said Robinson, a UW grad and in her mid-20's.

What makes this project different from others, the artists can showcase their work inside a store while using the storefront. It's not just a mural or visual on the outside of a building.

"This innovative program is a great collaboration between our business and art communities," said Mayor Mike McGinn. "Storefronts Seattle shines a spotlight on Seattle’s creative sector, brings new life to empty  storefronts and enlivens our neighborhood business districts."

According to the most recent audit by the Downtown Seattle Association, the International District and Pioneer Square top the list for the number of vacant storefronts in Seattle, followed by Belltown and SoDo:

International District - 16 %
Pioneer Square - 15 %
Belltown - 12 % SoDo -
12% * Percent of neighborhood total

For more information, go to the Storefronts Seatte website.