Storefronts-For-All: Better Access Equals Better Businesses


7/1/2014

City Manager Rich Rossi at program launchOn June 18, City officials joined East Cambridge community members for a celebration and groundbreaking hosted by Boston Bed Company, the first local retailer to take advantage of enhanced grant funding from the Cambridge Storefront Improvement Program. This first-in-the-nation program assists businesses with the removal of architectural barriers that impede access to stores. Having recently relocated to 625 Cambridge Street, the Boston Bed Company provided an ideal venue to showcase the range of services available to the city’s independent businesses and property owners. Mayor David P. Maher and City Manager Richard C. Rossi were on hand to explain the increased reimbursement available for the purpose of making ground-level businesses more accessible. This new level of municipal investment stimulates the Cambridge economy by making it easier for all community members to shop locally, and contributes to the overall livability and vibrancy of the city.

"The bricked-up front and small windows of this East Cambridge building felt like a fortress, and from the time we signed the lease, we've talked about enlarging the windows to let people see into our showroom. This partnership with the City lets us open up the whole front of the store and reach out to the street and our neighbors, and makes us more inviting. We are pleased that by offering improved access to the store we can better serve the needs of all our customers in Cambridge and the surrounding communities."
~ Andrew Rosenblatt, Chief of Sleep, Boston Bed Company

Why Make This Change?

The relationship between a business and its customer starts with access, the simple act of getting customers through the door. The more obstacles a customer faces when entering a business, the less likely it is that the person will shop there. What’s more, improvements to the City’s sidewalks and streets help create a pedestrian-friendly environment. Business storefronts provide the complementary design element that builds a dynamic and inviting streetscape, one that attracts customers and generates networked commercial area activity.

The City of Cambridge recognizes the importance of this simple cause-and-effect Sidewalk conversation with disabled personrelationship and has stepped up to the challenge by enhancing and renaming the Façade Improvement Program to emphasize the removal of physical barriers to access. The Cambridge Storefront Improvement Program rolled out earlier this fiscal year with the straightforward message: Storefronts-For-All in Cambridge – Get money for upgrades to your storefront. Improve accessibility and grow your business!

Research by City staff highlights the economic impact of people with short or long-term disabilities and older individuals who may also have difficulty with architectural barriers:

  • $175 billion in discretionary spending power is attributed to these population segments; 
  • 75% of people with disabilities eat out at restaurants at least once a week; 
  • Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) have more discretionary income than any other age group.

Economic Impact

Acessible doorway at Guilia restaurantCambridge businesses need to enable customer access, and this program allows retailers, restaurants and commercial property owners to upgrade their buildings and to improve the economic value of storefronts without incurring long term debt. The City’s well-established Façade Improvement Program has already funded a range of accessibility improvements, from simple alterations to the threshold and an automatic door opener for Giulia Restaurant on Massachusetts Avenue, to a complete change in grade with new pavers and handrails at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education on Brattle Street. Total investment by commercial property owners and businesses in such projects has totaled over two and one half times the funds provided by the City, with more than $2.8 million of Access ramp at entrance to Cambridge Center for Adult Educationprivate funding for projects including upgrades in accessibility.

As noted by City Manager Rossi, this example of public-private partnership expands choices for everyone in our community while helping local businesses to thrive. Businesses can now receive 90% reimbursement of access-related costs, up to a limit of $20,000, in addition to the available matching grant for façade, signage and lighting improvements. The City hopes this accelerated funding will spur more property owners and businesses to make enhancements that previously might have been out of financial reach.

About the Program

The Storefront Improvement Program is part of a suite of programs and services offered by the City to help small and independent businesses prosper in Cambridge. It is geared toward property owners or tenants seeking to renovate or restore commercial building exteriors, and provides technical and financial assistance to remove architectural barriers at the storefront entrance, improve the physical appearance of the businesses, and enhance the commercial districts of Cambridge.

Specifically, the program provides:

  • 90% matching grant up to $20,000 for ADA (Americans with Disability Act) improvements to entrance, including ramps, lifts, doors hardware and automatic openers, accessible parking, and signage; 
  • 50% matching grant up to $15,000 for other façade improvements, including better windows, paneling, architectural details and restoration of historic features; 
  • 50% matching grant up to $2,500 for signage, lighting and awning improvements; and 
  • An architectural consultant retained by the City is available to provide assistance to applicants through the conceptual design stage at no cost to the applicants.

Public examining design boards

For More Information

Visit the program website at www.cambridgema.gov/storefront or contact Chris Basler at CDD, 617/349-4601 (voice) or 617/349-4621 (TTY), or e-mail at cbasler@cambridgema.gov .

Learn more about small business assistance.