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New business looks to beautify empty storefronts

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RACINE — Empty storefronts bother Marty Sturino. A lot.

So he decided to do something about them.

Last week, Sturino and his business partner, Ed Jenkins, unveiled a new look for three large storefront windows at 427 Main St., the former Main Marine & Ski.

Passersby may think they’re looking into a new Downtown phone store. But the reality is this: The windows are filled with a large, high-definition, 3-D graphic depicting a store inside what is actually vacant, available commercial space.

This year Sturino and Jenkins, both retired SC Johnson executives, formed the company they are now launching: Storefronts Matter. Their business offers large, high-definition graphics that are stuck onto commercial windows to make empty spaces appear to house real businesses. The one at 427 Main St. is their demonstration project.

“Empty storefronts are an eyesore for the community, wasted space with no utility and do little to interest potential renters/buyers,” Storefront Matters states.

“Our storefronts improve the cityscape for residents, summer visitors and tourists by creating interest in otherwise ugly properties; provide information about the building; and create exciting promotional and advertising space for large companies, schools and civic organizations,” Sturino and Jenkins write.

The graphics are created by a small Dublin, Ireland, graphic arts company called Virtual-Shopfronts; they’re sent to Storefronts Matter as large computer files and are printed here on vinyl sheets. The sticky sheets are applied professionally to the insides of windows.

Virtual-Shopfronts offers more than 25 basic graphic creations including restaurants, shoe stores, men’s and women’s clothing stores, coffee shops and a health food store, Sturino and Jenkins said.

However, Jenkins said, “If you need something, they will create it.” The graphic artists can also move the positions of people within a graphic or change the color scheme, as Sturino and Jenkins had them do with their Main Street phone store.

The building owner chose a phone store because that is what the company would like to attract to that space, Sturino explained.

The demonstration space is adjacent to the Downtown Racine Corp. office at 425 Main St., and DRC Executive Director Devin Sutherland is thrilled by what Storefronts Matter is doing in a Downtown space.

“Storefronts Matter is one of the most exciting business startups we have worked with,” he said. “The concept of not only trying to enhance the aesthetics of a business district, but using this new approach to business attraction is very unique and innovative. The scalability of this is huge, and the applications for this product are endless.”

Realistic

Virtual-Shopfront window graphics are used in Europe, but Sturino — who found that company through online research — and Jenkins said they’re bringing them to the United States for the first time.

The graphics are so realistic and three-dimensional that in Europe, Sturino said, people will often pull on a locked door handle, thinking they can walk into the shop they “see” inside.

He said their product would be appropriate and useful in many places: empty storefronts within Regency Mall, commercial areas, strip malls, Downtown and Uptown, as local examples.

They envision four different potential customers:

  • The building owner who is trying to sell or rent.
  • The real estate agent who has the listing on a commercial space.
  • The municipality that wants to raise civic morale and beautify its streets.
  • A sponsoring, civic-minded company.

Sturino said the graphics are sold partly by size, and the price works out to be about a month’s rent on a commercial space. If a Storefronts Matter graphic can get a space rented one month earlier than it would have otherwise, the cost is recouped by that extra month’s rent.

“Every city has this problem,” Jenkins said. “We’re providing a vision to show people what could be.”

“Storefronts Matter is one of the most exciting business startups we have worked with." 

— Downtown Racine Corp. Executive Director Devin Sutherland

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Michael "Mick" Burke covers business and the Village of Sturtevant. He is the proud father of two daughters and owner of a fantastic, although rug-chewing, German shepherd dog.

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