Perks and Pitfalls of Leasing Commercial Space in a Historic Building

Perks and Pitfalls of Leasing Commercial Space in a Historic Building
Posted By @ Aug 2nd 2018 2:35pm

Charleston was recently named the Best City in America for the sixth straight year by Travel + Leisure. From cobblestone streets, moss-draped trees, and horse-drawn carriages to the decades of architecture and surrounding waterfront views, it’s easy to see why our city is beloved by locals and tourists.

History is everywhere you turn and the various buildings, many more than a century old, each tell a story. Like the city they are built on, these buildings exude an undeniable charm. Much like living in an older home, running a business in a historic building comes with a unique set of pros and cons that should be considered when searching for commercial space to set up shop.


  • Location, Location, Location. Established as a center for business, commerce, and socializing, downtown Charleston remains the hub of the city. When you set up your operation on the peninsula, you’ll enjoy built-in foot traffic that can bolster sales and business leads. Thanks to annual special events such as Charleston Wine + Food and Spoleto along with local smaller seasonal events like the farmers market, downtown Charleston is a favorite place to be every season of the year.
  • Unique Architecture and Charm. Beautifully aged original hardwood floors, soaring ceilings, arched doorways, and thick crown molding. Whether you’re hoping to create a welcoming space for customers or a plush office, these original details are hard to replicate and bring charm and warmth to any space.

  • Solid Construction. There is a reason these buildings are still standing decades after their original construction. Before we entered the age of pre-fab materials and drywall, buildings were constructed the old school way using brick, wood, and other classic materials. The only downfall to these materials is likely age, which can present its own set of challenges that we’ll touch on below.


  • Maintenance Issues. Old buildings will often have maintenance problem pop up. Different from maintenance in a new build, repairs on historic buildings can be costlier and take longer to fix because of outdated plumbing, electrical, and even building issues like foundations and settling.
  • Problems Lurking. Similar to maintenance issues, you run the risk of uncovering problems lurking below the surface which are often found during routine maintenance or those costly repairs we just mentioned. These problems can range from large repairs that can shut down operations temporality hindering business to larger structural issues that will force you to move out and move on as was the case with Jim ‘N Nick’s King Street location and Lagunitas Brewing that briefly inhabited a historic brick building on the corner of East Bay and Queen Streets that was built in1880.  
  • Code Issues. True historic buildings are often legally protected and preserved. In addition to preserving the integrity and historical features of the space, these rules also serve to keep the historic look and feel of the area true to its roots. This is usually a good thing and will help keep the surrounding area looking just like it should, but it can hinder things like signage and certain renovations you may be envisioning.  

The lure of charming real estate in a prime downtown location can be alluring. Throw in unique features that you won’t find in another building and it’s easy to let your emotions steer your decision. The best thing you can do when considering leasing in a historic building is to enlist the help of a local commercial agent you trust. They will be able to guide you through the decision-making processes ensuring your new lease is the smartest decision for your portfolio or business.

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