From residences to studios: this is what happens to the vacant shops in North Holland

The number of vacant shops is falling, according to figures from market researcher Locatus. Many of the vacant shops in our province will have a completely new destination. For example, homes, catering companies or studios are made of it. The artist Ap Kooistra from Den Helder benefits from this and exhibits in five unused shops.

NH News / Thijs de Kreij

Kooistra has a studio in Koningstraat in Den Helder, in the old building of the sports store Dekker Sport. Since it has been empty, the artist can rent it for next to nothing. Enthusiastically, he walks around the large building, pointing to one of his works of art every few steps. He knows something about every painting. In addition to his studio, Kooistra uses four other vacant buildings where he exhibits his art.

Kooistra can exhibit for free in three of his buildings because housing associations give him space to use the shop window. He rents the other two buildings for a relatively small amount.

The audience responds enthusiastically to Kooistra’s studio and exhibition space. “People prefer to look at art in a shop window than at an empty room,” explains the artist. Further down the street, he has filled the window of an empty building with giant paintings. The traders opposite the building are very happy there, says Kooistra. “At least now they have a nice view.”


The fact that Kooistra rents his studio so cheaply is due to a favor from the owner, he explains. “He’d rather have me in it than empty.” It is an example of how overall retail vacancy is falling: buildings are being repurposed. It is not always possible to find out what a building’s new function is, says Locatus. But in most cases, old shops seem to be turned into homes.

Realtor Jerry Breg also sees many vacant stores being converted into homes. This is primarily about the upper floors, explains the estate agent. Across the province, several department stores have already been converted into modern complexes with shops on the ground floor and apartments on the upper floors.

In Den Helder, Hoorn, Haarlem and Alkmaar, among others, old V&D buildings are being converted into apartment complexes. Something similar is also happening in Alkmaar. The old Dominicus Church, which until recently housed Primark, is now being transformed into a modern residential and retail development.

From church to shopping center to housing complex

Breg oversees the project in Alkmaar. The former church was previously converted into a shopping center ‘De Domus’. It turned out not to be a success, and therefore the building gets a second life again. “We are going back from 5,000 to 1,000 square meters of shop space. Shops will only remain on the ground floor, starter homes will be built above,” explains Breg.

This renovation is also in line with the changing way people shop today. Most of it happens online, shops on the upper floors are literally a step too far, Breg thinks. “The stores that are still there need to be as accessible as possible.”

According to Breg, a visible trend is that converted department stores only have shops on the ground floor. “The combination living, shopping and working is good for vibrancy.”

Domus shopping center becomes an apartment complex – GTP Vastgoed


The artist Kooistra also contributes to the liveliness of Den Helder in his own way. He paints there every day. In a street near Kooistra’s studio, another artist also exhibits. In an old travel shop in Kroonpassagen, photos printed on linen adorn the windows.

This kind of new use of the buildings makes the city happy again, says Kooistra. “That way, at least there’s something to see. Everyone’s looking at me,” says the artist, satisfied.

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