Laura Thomas

The Oxford Chamber of Commerce is working to fill empty storefronts across the city.

The Oxford Chamber of Commerce is partnering with the director of economic development to introduce new commerce to Oxford in 2009 and reduce the number of empty storefronts in the uptown area.

Ideas to fill the empty storefronts along the uptown strip, including the Lofts of Bella Place and the Ball of Oxford’s previous location, were discussed at the Chamber of Commerce’s annual retreat Jan. 15.

“Empty storefronts let us work together with economic development to bring commerce into town,” said JoNell Rowan, president of the Oxford Chamber of Commerce. “The partnership will benefit both departments. The chamber will focus on giving tours of available space and answering questions about what Oxford can offer businesses that come into town. This will give economic development more time to focus on permits, zoning, coding and details of starting a business.”

Both departments plan to meet weekly and work closely on attracting businesses. According to Alan Kyger, Oxford’s economic development director, there are approximately 10 storefront openings in uptown, but there will be five to six additional openings later this year. These openings are mostly a result of construction uptown, Kyger said.

“There are many business districts in the city, but uptown Oxford is the face of the community,” Kyger said. “It is important for the community to have a strong and vibrant uptown.”

Much of this renovation is also a result of the Oxford Charter Amendment from November 2007 that had not been changed since 1979. The original charter allowed three residential units per storefront in the original Mile Square of the town. It was not very profitable to only have three units, so in 2007, the charter was amended to allow property to be developed in a two-to-one ratio of residential to commercial space, according to Kyger.

Now businesses have an economic incentive to tear down, replace or renovate businesses to accommodate more residential units. They will have more opportunity to re-coop the money for renovations through additional residential rentals, Kyger said.

“With this boom in redevelopment for residential uptown, we will see a rise in available storefronts,” said Alan Kyger, Oxford’s economic development director. “This availability has some advantages and trade-offs. With all of the construction, there may be empty storefronts, but there are some better looking buildings. There is more potential to attract businesses to the area if there are new buildings that offer brand new electric and plumbing. Our commercial stock in Oxford is improving.”

Even so, empty storefronts uptown do not portray the image Oxford wants visitors to remember, Kyger said.