Startup helps mask recession's black eyes

Mon Apr 20, 2009 11:54am EDT
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By Nick Vinocur

LONDON (Reuters) - Former banker Andrew Field has just the thing for British towns fighting a losing battle against downtown rot: colorful "skins" that cover storefronts and keep shoppers' eyes off the empty shops behind.

Streetskins, the company he founded in June 2008 after quitting his job at a major British bank, offers a quick fix to councils with one too many black eyes on their high streets at a time when more shops are going bust due to the recession.

"I was on my way home on the bus one day and noticed how many shops were shut with very ugly steel shutters," he told Reuters.

"In a place like London where space is at such a premium, I thought there's got to be a better use for them," he said.

After experimenting with vinyl printing -- no good on the corrugated iron of store shutters, he said -- Field developed and patented a spring-loaded mechanism for displaying images.

The idea appealed to retailers and commercial landlords who wanted to supplement their income by advertising during closing hours, generating 25-40 percent of total revenue, Field said.

So far he has dressed 16 sites with "skins" featuring adverts or bright lifestyle imagery, and said many councils had expressed interest in papering over their empty shops.

Croydon, south-west of London, with many vacant stores, is among the councils considering using skins as a foil to the "ghost town" syndrome of darkened storefronts.   Continued...

<p>A man walks past a boarded-up pub in central London January 15, 2009. REUTERS/Toby Melville</p>