In Greensboro’s flight to the suburbs over the past 50 years, it sometimes seems as though the Gate City has lost its ability to build a great storefront. Great street-side storefronts share common features that some recently renovated storefronts throughout downtown Greensboro are lacking. No, it’s not rocket science, but we might be a little rusty in executing some of the finer details.
Greensboro has some great examples of classic storefronts right here in our own backyard. The late and great architect Charles C. Hartmann designed several storefronts that remain today. Examples include the front of the Jefferson Standard Building (1923), as well as the Guilford Building (1927).
Other storefronts in downtown were likely designed by carpenters 100 years ago, and incorporate time-tested traditions. One of my favorite storefronts can be found on Lewis Street, designed by an unknown builder (upper right). This storefront engages the passerby and encourages – not discourages – window shopping. Stores need customers, and the storefront facilitates that end. Here, a maximum of glass – the full-width and full-height that technology at the time allowed – is incorporated into the storefront. Windows near the main entry are placed at an angle to the sidewalk, to better engage the attention of sidewalk shoppers.
Proper storefronts incorporate quality materials. As architecture critic Blair Kamin said “… if your building is third rate, then your company’s image will be third-rate.” Vinyl siding, hardiplank, or plexiglass are poor substitutes granite, marble, or plate glass. Granite was a favorite because it was not porous and stood up well against salts used to discourage ice formation in the winter.
Great storefronts also have awnings that shelter window shoppers from sun, rain, and snow…and provide a great place for a sign. Park Slope Books in Brooklyn (lower right) has an awning that is rolled over the sidewalk each afternoon. Great storefronts also have simple, but effective displays that are well lighted, colorful, and engaging.
Greensboro may have lost some of its storefront mojo, but I hope it’s a short term loss. Getting a storefront right is not a guarantee in any city, but recent strolls through our downtown illustrates we can do better. Storefront details are a small part of the big picture, but they can make, or break, our city’s streetscapes.
Written by Benjamin Briggs
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