The best of times? The worst of times? That depends on which end of the lease you're negotiating. Before the recession Stuart Skorman, CEO of Empire Video Superstore, a small chain of video-rental stores based in Keene, N.H., had his eye on a large retail location that was renting for $85,000 a year. Today, he says, the rate has dropped to $45,000. Retailers and other storefront or mall businesses can take advantage of the recession to lock in lower rents, add more space, or grab a new location they couldn't have touched when landlords weren't so desperate.

Burt Hochberg, general manager of a Jackson Hewitt Inc. tax-service franchise in the Baltimore Washington, D.C., area, offers the following advice:

* Assume any price a landlord quotes is negotiable.

* Deal directly with owners.

* Approach current lease holders about subleases.

* Can't rewrite the terms of your existing lease? Ask the landlord for a spruced-up amenities package.

* Look for deals that give you free rent for several months; maybe the landlord will reduce the front-end deposit.

-- Tom Richman

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