LOWER EAST SIDE — Entrepreneurs looking to transform vacant storefronts into bustling classrooms, clothing stores and art galleries could soon have some help.
Made in the Lower East Side, an organization that encourages landlords to fill vacant storefronts with rentals, is raising money to create a kit that offers everything a new business could need to convert an empty space to a pop-up shop or community space in minutes.
The group hopes to raise $32,000 through a Kickstarter campaign it launched last week to build a prototype of the "Storefront Transformer," a collection of Wi-Fi, power strips, speakers and a projector, as well as a 6-foot-square cube made of birch and plywood that can unfold into seats, tables, shelving or even a stage, depending on the business' needs.
"We are seeing an opportunity to help entrepreneurs, creatives and other people who would not otherwise be able to use [vacant storefronts],” said Eric Ho, 32, a local architect who founded miLES.
The miLES team counted more than 200 vacant storefronts in the Community Board 3 area, which covers the East Village, Lower East Side and Chinatown, during a survey last April.
The Kickstarter funding, which has an Oct. 19 deadline, would include $16,000 to build the Storefront Transformer and $11,000 to rent the demonstration space.
To show how the Storefront Transformer would work, Ho hopes to use it in a 7-week demonstration, converting a local shop into everything from a museum and cooking classroom to a place for social events.
Earlier this year, miLES test-drove its pop-up rental idea in an East Fourth Street storefront. The organization leased it as a co-working space during weekdays, with numerous events and shops taking over the space at nights and on the weekends.
Ho is eyeing a vacant storefront on East First Street, but if that space is taken by the time he plans to open in winter, he said he has a few other sites in mind.
Ho hopes the Storefront Transformer could be available for community groups or businesses across the city to rent by next spring.