Regular readers of this page know how we frown on government playing favorites in the private sector. We lamented last week a Darien store owner’s plea to town planners to stop a competitor from moving next door, and we’ve cautioned against the city of Janesville meddling too much in filling the gap being created by the planned closure of Pick ‘n Save on the south side.
But let’s be clear about what government should do. It should assist businesses so long as its policies are inclusive, benefiting an entire economic sector or geographical area. That’s why we like Janesville City Council President Doug Marklein’s idea to clear a regulatory path for pop-up stores downtown.
Current regulations make it difficult for an entrepreneur to set up a temporary space because of all the paperwork involved. Anyone interested in running a temporary store wouldn’t find it worthwhile to jump through the city’s zoning, licensing and inspection hoops.
As Marklein noted in a Sunday story about pop-up stores, “Even putting up a sign involves a permit.”
But what if the city eliminated that paperwork or substantially reduced it? If the owners of vacant properties could prequalify their buildings for pop-up shops, that would pave the way for entrepreneurs to experiment and try out their business models. The hope is that some of these entrepreneurs will succeed and decide to open permanent stores in the downtown—leaving the area with fewer vacant spaces.
Pop-up stores have worked in other cities, such as Baraboo and Viroqua, where festival-like weekends feature a collection of pop-up stores.
The pop-up store concept is appealing in part because it minimizes government meddling and expands the marketplace to allow more businesses to compete. With pop-up stores, the city isn’t playing favorites. It’s giving any entrepreneur the opportunity to test his or her idea, and those entrepreneurs are responsible for their own success or failure.
Pop-ups stores alone won’t revitalize the downtown, but they could play an important role. The city is doing everything it can to create a business-friendly atmosphere through public-private partnerships. Forward Janesville, for example, raised funds to install a water fountain in the soon-to-open town square. Meanwhile, the city tore down a parking deck that officials rightly viewed as unsightly and no longer useful.
In working to beautify public spaces, the city is making the downtown more attractive to private investment, whether in the form of more restaurants, art galleries, bakeries or coffee shops.
Taken together, these projects known as the ARISE plan promote downtown’s revitalization.
We have faith city leaders will maintain proper boundaries of government authority. So long as leaders avoid the temptation to promote certain businesses at the expense of competitors, they shouldn’t apologize for helping the private sector.
Meanwhile, the private sector must step up and take risks. It cannot sit on the sidelines and complain about government red tape when council members such as Marklein are working to eliminate obstacles. The government can create the conditions for business investment, but it’s up to the private sector to seize the opportunity.