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Virtual Malls Fill Empty Detroit Store Windows

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For many non-Detroiters, striking images of decaying buildings are all they know of the city. But not every vacant building is in ruins. Many downtown buildings are structurally sound and architecturally beautiful. They're just -- empty.

Thanks to Detroit native Jeff Freedman (RESULTCO), some of these empty store windows are being converted into virtual shopping malls. "In the current economy," Freedman explains, "it's not always practical for retailers to set up a physical store. But by combining QR (Quick Response) codes with stunning artwork and using laser printing, we can set up a virtual storefront that attracts window shoppers, with minimal investment."

The Detroit windows mark the first time that QR codes are being used in the United States to create a virtual shopping experience. Freedman got the idea for the displays after seeing a video of a virtual grocery store in a South Korean subway station where commuters shop using their smartphones. "It's very innovative, very exciting," he says. "This project allows Detroit to do something that no other U.S. city is doing."

Two downtown buildings received their face lifts in time for the annual Thanksgiving parade. 1520 Woodward features two automotive-themed watches, Equipe's Boss 302, and Chevrolet's 100th anniversary watch. Equipe is a new automotive-inspired watch brand created by Freedman.

1528 Woodward features the landmark Joe Louis fist and 47 different watches available via Watchwear.com. Also a Detroit-based company, Watchwear.com is the Internet's largest authorized independent watch retailer.

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Each item offered for sale has its own QR code. Shoppers scan the codes with their smart phones, which takes them to a secure website where they can either make a purchase, or email the product information to themselves to review later. As part of their window shopping experience, visitors can also scan a QR code to learn more about Louis and Detroit.

The windows, designed by Detroit-area artist Deanna Dionne with photography by Joe Eddy, combine surreal elements with trompe l'oeil, an art technique that incorporates extremely realistic imagery to create the illusion that the depicted objects actually exist in three dimensions.

Freedman envisions a day when the entire Woodward stretch from Tiger Stadium to the riverfront will be without a single empty shop window. Virtual window displays are forthcoming for Bagsbuy.com, Shoebuy.com, and Clothesbuy.com, with additional interest from jewelry and perfume sellers.

"With the support of Dan Gilbert and Jim Ketai of Bedrock Realty, who own the buildings, downtown Detroit will be the revival city of 2012," Freedman says. "While there's no substitute for an actual retail business, our virtual mall windows beautify the city's empty buildings, encourage foot traffic, and help prospective retailers see that shopping is alive and well in downtown Detroit."

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