Some Downtown Areas Struggle to Fill Vacant Storefronts, Others Thrive

| February 18, 2020

VENANGO CO., Pa. (EYT) – The struggle to fill vacant storefronts is ongoing in some local areas, while others are beginning to thrive again.

The issue of filling vacant spaces with businesses in our local downtown areas has been an ongoing struggle in many small towns, but some are starting to find a balance and thrive again.

“Franklin is fortunate that our downtown storefronts are occupied,” Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jodi Lewis told

“While Liberty Street is the ‘Main Street,’ all of the surrounding streets are filling up and the downtown blocks are growing. No longer are the phone calls ‘where can I go on Liberty Street,’ the calls are ‘where can I locate in Franklin.’ We are fortunate to have so many folks working together to make sure this happens.”

Lewis noted that over the past few years, there had been a few vacant storefronts, but the issue has not been as much of a struggle for Franklin as for some other areas in the region.

According to Susan Williams, President/CEO of Venango Area Chamber of Commerce, filling storefronts has been more of an issue in the Oil City area.

“On Seneca Street, there are a lot of vacant buildings, and that’s definitely not in the plan,” Williams said.

Williams noted that while filling vacancies can be difficult, and a lot fate burden falls to the building owners, who have to maintain their buildings to find new tenants, retailers are slowly coming back to places like Oil City.

According to Williams, one of the challenges is matching a business to the right kind of space.

“The overhead can make it challenging for retailers to be in some buildings,” she noted.

Lewis noted that online the popularity of online shopping is one challenge for small businesses, but another challenge is the weather.

“In northwestern PA, we are subject to ‘seasonal stay-in-the-house disorder.’ Many folks just don’t like to go out in the winter. The businesses in our community work together to make fun events to draw people in during these slower times.”

She noted that Franklin and the local Fine Arts Council has worked hard to provide festivals to bring people downtown during the colder months, and the shows and events at the Barrow-Civic Theatre also provide a draw.

Likewise, Williams noted that the Venango Area Chamber and the Oil City Main Street program have been working together to create events that draw more people downtown.

“The Main Street Program has done really great things, from grants and funding to help small businesses with facade improvements, to improvement through murals, and hosting downtown events to bring the community together. It’s really about creating a downtown culture, and they’re really an asset to the community.”

According to Lewis, it is more than just the different programs and organizations that really make a different, though.

“We have people who make a difference. We have community leaders who believe in the downtown and the region; we have business owners who take pride in their businesses and are always thinking outside of the proverbial box to draw people inside the door; we have residents who know just how important it is to shop local every chance they get; and everyone works together for the greater good.”

Williams also noted that while filling storefronts has been more of a struggle in Oil City, it is something people will continue to work to improve upon.

“We are far from giving up home on our downtown. We are proud of what we do have, and the opportunities for those who have struggled. When we have successful business, they’re also so often willing to give advise, or referrals, or just be a good neighbor to other businesses. And our businesses work well together to co-market to create a consistent level of service and to vill the voids we do have.”

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