First, a Reading committee set aside $10,000 to improve the “curb appeal” of businesses downtown.
Now the town has received a $10,000 grant to help businesses in the same area with their “retail visioning,” which includes presentation and marketing.
That area comprises Reading Square, between Woburn and Washington Streets and Haven Street from Main to the train tracks, according to Reading Community Services Director and Town Planner Jean Delios.
The grant came from the state Department of Housing and Community Development's Downtown Initiative Program within the past few weeks, Delios told Patch Monday. The town’s Economic Development Committee, which is spearheading both efforts, is “aggressive about going after money,” Delios said.
The grant includes a consultant, according to Delios. The kinds of issues the consultant might address? Retailers often clutter their windows with signs, the town planner said, rather than using the space to showcase their merchandise or services and draw customers in.
The criteria for distributing the new grant money has not been set yet, Delios said. The committee and town staff will “hammer (that) out” during the summer, she said and implement the program in the fall -- after the Reading Fall Street Faire, she emphasized.
As for the curb appeal program, officially for building façade signage improvements, the committee received 10 applications by the April 30 deadline, Staff Planner Jessie Wilson told Patch Monday. They requested a total of $20,000. The commission earmarked $10,000 from the Downtown Improvement Trust, not tax money, to fund those improvements, on a matching basis. That money has not been distributed yet.
This coming Wednesday, May 23, the Economic Development Committee will host a charrette, a design session where, as part of the program, a student from the Boston Architectural College will show examples of what could be done to the applicants’ facades. The session will begin at 7 p.m.; it will be held at the police station community room.
The Economic Development Committee will then decide which proposals to fund, Wilson said.
If enough business people are interested in the program, the committee could try to increase the façade improvement fund, committee Chairman Sheila Clarke said at the program kickoff in March.
The program is partly an incentive to encourage business owners to comply with town sign regulations, according to Delios, adopted about a decade ago.
Both the new grant and facade program apply to new and existing businesses, Delios and Wilson pointed out.