Unlike renting an apartment, a storefront/commercial space will almost always require a Mandarin-speaking local on your team. I'm not saying, "IT CAN'T BE DONE!" In fact, I'm proof that it can; but in my experience, having a local wingman makes a big difference in terms of understanding, which is important. They gotta understand what you [foreigner] want to do in the space before they rent it to ya. Then there's the money issue.
You can easily find properties on 591.com - if you read Chinese and set the search filters accordingly (I'll spare everybody the rant about their ATROCIOUS new Web interface). Otherwise, it's a long slog through thousands of properties.
I offer an alternative approach that's proven effective for me - although there are several contingencies to my story. Starting next month, I'll be sub-letting a storefront in the evening hours (for a very reasonable amount: $8,000 per month; access from 3:00 p.m. - 6:00 a.m.)
Here's how you do it: Ask around. Make some friends in the neighborhood you want to rent in. Again, I can't overstate the value and importance of having a local on your team. You will do 95% of the groundwork and they'll come in handy when it comes time to close the deal.
It took me almost a year of jawboning* about it, walking around the neighborhood, in some cases walking into the joint and inquiring about the property. Earlier this month I paid an intern at my company to walk around with me and call every number on every "For Rent" sign that looked feasible for my purpose.
- By jawboning*, I mean talking. Asking. Everybody. Finding a space was the number one thing I jawboned about every time I left the crib.
Now, that whole gambit failed. Most people would have been happy to rent to me (once they learned I was on APRC, had a long track record in Taiwan with solid references). A lot of people were not cool with my plans (music-related), but a couple of cats had suggestions. This one old neighborhood cat turned me on to a bunch of different spots. None of them panned out for whatever reasons.
AND THEN, one of the people who I'd been jawboning to - the owner of my local cafe and good friend for over eight years - told me that she was thinking about renting her cafe in the evening (it closes at 3:00 p.m. - kinda like a breakfast/lunch deal). Apparently, she had a deal with someone but it fell through.
I said, "Would you consider renting it to me?" She replied that it would be OK as long as we had some ground rules and a general understanding. See what I did there?
So get on 591 and do your homework. But also consider the value of the spoken word and physical presence. Another thing you might want to consider is finding and approaching other foreign-operated storefronts and asking them how they got their spots.
You'll find a spot, just keep at it. Persistence is key.