Downtown Business & Building Inventories: What, Why and How?

Business and building inventories are a valuable resource for a Main Street organization. Not only do they provide a comprehensive list of downtown stakeholders, they can be used to conduct a market assessment, track investments, fill vacancies, and promote real estate opportunities (just to name a few).

Creating a comprehensive inventory is a great project for the Design and Economic Vitality committees to work on simultaneously. First, determine how the information will be stored, such as a Google or Excel spreadsheet. Then, identify the information that will be collected. For a business inventory, consider including addresses, business types, contact information, ownership, products/services, hours of operation, number of full-time equivalent employees, and whether the business rents or owns the property, etc.

A comprehensive building inventory should include address, square footage, ownership, building age, unique features, historic designation, zoning class, assessed value and taxes, and last sale date and amount. Be sure to denote current use or any vacancies.

To go a step further, you may consider including an assessment of the building and noting maintenance issues and/or collect rental rates. And, don’t forget to include upper floor spaces and residential units!

Conducting these types of inventories are labor-intensive, but they are a great opportunity to engage with local property and business owners. Google can be a good place to start gathering business information—especially in larger districts. Surveys can be used to gather supplementary information from building owners and occupants. Additional sources of information include the local municipality’s tax office, planning department, and GIS mapping staff; the local historical society; and local real estate agents. On-site inspections are a great follow-up activity to determine the physical conditions and special amenities (such as elevators, loading docks, storage areas, parking, and alley access) of each building in the district. Down the road, this information can be used to encourage building façade and/or up-fit improvements.

Once completed, inventories help paint the picture of downtown highlighting the number of businesses, employees, commercial units, residential units, etc. and enable the organization to track trends in the district. Not to mention, now the organization has a comprehensive list of downtown stakeholders that can be used for relationship building, regular communication, volunteer opportunities, and annual solicitations. Digging deeper, comprehensive inventories can help Main Street organizations quickly fill vacancies and assess the district’s business mix revealing surplus or leakage when looked at alongside consumer data.

Ready to tackle a building and/or business inventory project? Contact the Virginia Main Street (VMS) team at for some samples!

Photo Credit: Fredericksburg Virginia Main Street