Local artists display their work at the Natick Mall’s former Burberry store leased by Zero Empty Spaces, a company that partners with mall landlords to fill vacant storefronts. Image courtesy of Zero Empty Spaces

Mall landlords seeking to fill vacancies and local artists looking for high-traffic exhibition space were a natural match that needed an introduction.

Andrew Martineau, a former retail executive, co-founded Zero Empty Spaces to connect the two groups and fill an overlooked niche in the retail landscape.

The company currently leases former vacant storefronts at 11 locations nationwide including the Natick Mall, where a group of seven artists currently display their works in a 7,000-square-foot former Burberry store.

“Most spaces that have chronic vacancies have negative press,” said Martineau, a former executive at Westfield Corp. “We activate a space where the lights are on, build a space for the local artist community and now that property has a feel-good story.”

Zero Empty Spaces touts the potential positive publicity from its arrival to negotiate below-market rents with mall landlords, Martineau said, then rents spaces to artists on a monthly basis. Artist tenants pay $4.50 per square foot, which translates to $575 per month for a typical space.

After co-founding Zero Empty Spaces in 2019, Martineau saw the COVID pandemic accelerate the retail vacancy crisis and saw a potential solution through his connections with the Florida arts community. In the past five years, the company has leased 31 locations on a short-term basis, 11 of which are currently operating, with major mall landlords such as Simon Property Group and Brookfield Properties, owner of the Natick Mall.

The Natick store has been in operation for nearly two years, after Martineau reached out to local groups such as the Natick Cultural Council to recruit potential clients.

Zero Empty Spaces’ location alongside retailers such as Louis Vuitton offers artists a chance to connect with a desirable demographic, Martineau said.

“The person shopping there is spending a lot of money and it puts you front and center with a preferred customer, rather than just being on a street where anybody walks by,” he said.

Galleries Fill Storefront Gaps in Malls

by Steve Adams time to read: 1 min