For the past six weeks, Brunswick Main Street searched for a location for a holiday pop-up store.
It would be the second year for the pop-up store, something the board overseeing Brunswick Main Street and its director, Sophie Smith, indicated that they would like to see become an annual occurrence.
But with the planned date in early November coming soon, Smith told Brunswick’s mayor and City Council at their last meeting that she was struggling to find a place. Three owners of vacant downtown buildings turned her down.
Vacant buildings in Brunswick continue to be a concern for city officials working to revitalize the downtown area. Smith’s struggle prompted council members to discuss what might be done to better address the scourge of empty buildings downtown.
By the end of last week, the association had found a place at 27 W. Potomac St., Smith said. But downtown vacancies are a constant source of trouble for Smith.
More than half of the buildings are vacant, with six buildings up for sale and two more going on the market, she said.
One problem with the buildings is that they are no longer in compliance with building code. For some property owners, the focus is on selling the building rather than getting it up to code.
“That’s sort of a struggle going forward,” Smith said.
There are businesses that come to Brunswick looking to lease property, but they are having trouble finding a place despite the many vacant buildings, Smith said.
“Oftentimes, it’s really discouraging for them not to have commercial space ... because we don’t have commercial space available for these businesses, they’re oftentimes going elsewhere to be accommodated,” Smith said.
Councilman Andrew St. John said that Smith’s issues with vacant buildings might be a reason to revisit Brunswick’s vacant buildings ordinance.
Brunswick’s council, on which St. John did not sit at the time, redid the vacant property ordinance in January 2018, requiring property owners with vacant buildings to register them.
But St. John questioned if the ordinance still allowed buildings to fall through loopholes, preventing the vacant properties ordinance from being applied properly.
Although the ordinance is unlikely to come up at the next council meeting, St. John said it will likely be discussed in the future.
Vacant buildings have continued to be a blight on downtown Brunswick, he said. With no businesses, there’s no foot traffic.
“Clearly, it’s a huge problem,” St. John said.