Talk a walk inside “Imagine That” in downtown South Bend and it will be snapshot of your childhood.
“They like to have something experiential, so we've created that here," said Marlene Hollenkamp.
Hollenkamp's toy store on Michigan Street is a success story.
“Imagine That” was one of the handful of stores that received free rent and utilities from the city last holiday season.
"The idea is that these spaces would show nicely to other retailers who might want to be downtown permanently," said Tamara Nicholl-Smith, the Director of downtown business recruitment for Downtown South Bend (DTSB).
But “Imagine That” is the only one that stayed.
And the others became empty storefronts again.
DTSB said they are making an active effort to fill the empty stores.
Nicholl-Smith said the city is taking action with last year's groundbreaking for new condos on the East Bank and grants for new business.
She said business developers will only commit to new stores when they see people making the city their home.
“When you talk to any pharmacy or grocer, what they want to say, who's living near downtown?” Nicholl-Smith said. “As we bring the rooftops in, that's when you get some of these uses."
Store owners on Michigan Street would take a different approach to building new business downtown.
"To consistently bring in business in the afternoons down here, it’s really up to getting some retail and entertainment venues here," said Matthew Wendowski, the General Manager of Jimmy Johns in downtown South Bend.
Wendowski said the city needs to step it up to create a downtown-like atmosphere, a place people would willing move to be closer to the action.
And other business owners agree.
"We have to have sorta of a ground swell of them realizing if they make this investment they're going to be safe, and that’s what the public needs to do, call the mayor ask him, tell him downtown is important to us, do it today," said Mark Tarner, owner of the South Bend Chocolate Company.
So what's the future of those empty stores on Michigan Street?
This summer, Downtown South Bend plans to have an art gallery in each empty store front to promote Art Beat, an annual Art Fest coming up at the end of August.
But the stores will still be empty.
DTSB said it will most likely offer free rent and utilities to a handful of entrepreneurs again this holiday season.
But they said it’s a delicate balancing act when deciding to offer this deal.
Since many stores pay full rent for their space, they cannot offer this deal year round.