Downtown Palm Springs
Downtown Palm Springs - 
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KAI RYSSDAL: You know sometimes in life, things just aren't what they seem. Another way of putting that -- a way that might fit better into the current retail climate -- is you can fool some of the people some of the time with a nice picture in the window.

The story here is that cities across the country are decorating vacant storefronts with posters, murals, mosaics -- anything to fill the holes left by this recession. The latest is upscale Palm Springs, Calif., where they're going to use city money to put work by local artists, as well as old Hollywood photos, into closed-up shops.

Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman reports.

Mitchell Hartman: Call them "commercially challenged:" Main Streets and suburban ring-roads and entire levels at the mall smattered with "Closed" and "For Lease" signs. It's a big bummer for shoppers, says retail analyst Patricia Edwards.

Patricia Edwards: If there is a string of empty stores or even one or two in a line of five or six, that area's generally less trafficked. Not just because there's less stores, but I believe because it's less interesting to be there.

Which is why cities around the country -- from San Francisco to Philadelphia to New York -- are trying out a kind of art therapy for suffering retail districts. Palm Springs will require empty properties to spruce up, says city manager David Ready.

David Ready: We're able to get donated art from local artists. Or it could be historical photos of Palm Springs' rich history that the city has. But it can't just be a vacant storefront.

Patricia Edwards says she's all for letting local artists show their work. It might get people to go buy some art as they stroll by. But she says nix the pics of Crosby and Sinatra -- that won't get people to spend money.

What will? I asked Anezka Drazil. She's an expert in feng shui, the Chinese art of space and energy and all that stuff.

Anezka Drazil: Well you definitely want to go for things that are going to attract people's attention. So colors like red, colors that are green, the color of money. You could even put potted plants out, something that has a "chi," that's alive.

Some feng shui advice for cities suffering the retail blues.

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

Follow Mitchell Hartman at @entrepreneurguy