Pay them to occupy storefronts

  Typical New England Main Street, this one in Webster, Mass., an old factory town.

Typical New England Main Street, this one in Webster, Mass., an old factory town.

From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in GoLocal24.com

Far too many downtowns have been hollowed out first by big-box chain stores and their windswept parking lots on the edge of town and then by the Internet -- especially by the near-monopoly Amazon.

So some state legislators in Massachusetts, which has many once-thriving and now moribund, if still-pretty, downtowns,  seek to revitalize them with an economic-development bill that, reports The Boston Globe, “would provide up to $500,000 a year in tax credits to merchants who {decide to} occupy vacant storefronts in downtown areas. The promise of new jobs would help a retailer’s case, but it’s not required. Other factors could come into play: anticipated pedestrian traffic, synergy with nearby businesses, a commitment to improve the storefront, matching funds from a landlord or community.’’

This would have to be a long-term experiment but, depending on the total price tag, worth a try in a few places. The big question is whether you can lure consumers who  have grown addicted to the Internet back into  the habit of patronizing small stores, for their visual, tactile and social pleasures. This little initiative is as much about rebuilding a sense of community as it is about economic development.

Maybe Rhode Island should try this sort of experiment in, well,  Pawtucket – especially if the PawSox decide to become the WorSox.