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Old 08-29-2018, 07:27 AM
 
372 posts, read 78,066 times
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I used to live in a small town in New England - actually almost a suburb of a larger city and right off two major highways. It is has an old downtown area with great architecture. Several large buildings, like city hall and the old library are really beautiful. But, like many towns, it's a ghost town. The major business is a thriving German restaurant. There was a high end men's clothing store that finally gave up the struggle to stay afloat.



The problems with leasing the vacant storefronts is that A. they are small spaces B. that someone wanting to open small retail wouldn't want to be the first to open in an area with no foot traffic. People opening small businesses are often spending a lifetime of savings to do so. Stores do open in town, but they, just as quickly close.


My idea was, if you turned the entire area over to someone familiar with mall management to develop, they could orchestrate the renovation of the storefronts, promote the area, recruit retailers and the whole shopping area would open simultaneously. Also, malls avoid duplication, so there wouldn't be 3 barbers in a block.



There would also be a selection process. Things like storefront churches and pawn shops give the image of decay (there are a few of those in the town I'm talking about). Similarly, cheap signage and messy front windows are not appealing.


I wonder if anyone has ever proposed to the big chain, like Whole Foods, that they open small satellite shops, such as in the case of Whole Foods, a fruit and vegetable shop or a tea, coffee and chocolate shop.
This could be done with others too. Hobby Lobby could put in a shop selling only art supplies in a small space.


If you were to take the concept of filling a lot of spaces up at once to another level, those spaces have been empty for a long time, bringing in no income for their owners. How radical would it be to offer spaces to desirable businesses for 6 months rent free, or as a loan payable over the following couple of years? Risky, but it would give new businesses a chance to get off the ground and past the perilous opening months.


There are government urban renewal funds available for sprucing up the facades of buildings. Those could be investigated. Regular small downtown festivals (micro brews,, etc)would establish the area as a happening place. I think the artificial supports would only be needed initially until the area is re-established.


I once proposed that idea, but in a lot more detail, to the mayor. Never got a response, but I still think it could be very doable with planning and effort.
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Old 08-29-2018, 07:56 AM
 
Location: Kansas City, MISSOURI
5,598 posts, read 1,671,838 times
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Quote:
The major business is a thriving German restaurant.
Maybe that's telling you something. Turn the town into a New England version of Leavenworth, WA? (look it up in case you're not familiar with it)
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Old 08-29-2018, 07:56 AM
 
Location: N of citrus, S of decent corn
34,616 posts, read 42,779,610 times
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You need ample parking if you want customers to choose specialty businesses instead of Walmart or a Mall.

You need a mixture of residential and commercial. The residents need to have grocery stores and restaurants.

We have quite a successful historic district in Savannah, yet it is still a work in progress. The tourist business is booming, but they are still struggling for affordable living and parking downtown. We have a vibrant art and music community. A College of Art and Design.

As OP suggested, a neglected street of shops was bought up by a developer who remodeled the area in a united plan which brought in upscale retail.

Savannah started with a lot of desirable features, but even they continue to have hurdles. One example is that the booming tourist industry requires hundreds of service workers. Hundreds of service workers can’t afford to live downtown, and can’t afford to pay hundreds of $ a month to park either.
Achieving a balance that results in a vibrant city is a very elusive mixture, but it always has to have something to keep the young professionals from leaving.
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Old 08-29-2018, 07:59 AM
 
Location: The Driftless Area, WI
1,668 posts, read 634,030 times
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I like the concept, BUT:


As in many areas, you can't come up with a solution until you define the problem. In this case, we should be asking, "Why did the town die in the first place?" Usually small towns die because the population falls. The population falls because jobs have left-- small towns so often were established &/or flourished because some anchor business was established there-- a mill, a RR depot, a manufacturing plant etc. and that has now closed.


To rejuvenate a small town with your mall paradigm would require that the town be reasonably close to a large population center, have adequate access and adequate parking and provide something alternatively attractive than the other nearby malls.


A major problem with malls is that they're all alike: they all have the same franchise operations, for the most part. Why would a potential customer come to your variation of a mall when they could go to a closer mall?


Maybe a better approach is to go "supply-side." First build a residential complex of some sort that would attract population- an up-scale retirement village, a green-oriented/outdoor activity-centered community, golf course community, etc etc. Then the businesses would follow to fill the economic demands.
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Old 08-29-2018, 08:26 AM
 
372 posts, read 78,066 times
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Well one the reasons I was re-thinking that idea was that an MGM casino opened in the adjoining city (Springfield, MA). Not revisiting the numerous pros and cons of casinos (believe me, those discussions have been endless in this area since casinos were legalized in the state, years ago). The thing is about this new casino is that instead of making it a self contained unit, they did an entirely new concept here. Springfield's downtown, although attractive was pretty much dead. What MGM did was build right on Main Street. They took down blighted buildings - many that had been damaged by a tornado years ago) and rebuild two blocks in the original architecture of the old city. I actually had to go to Google Streeet view to see what was original and what was new. Then, they put the casinos restaurants and retail, opening onto Main Street. They have also leased some to the new spaces to other businesses, including a high end salon, a Starbucks a jewelry store and an Indian Motorcycle apparel store (Springfield is the birthplace of Indian). In addition, they built a bowling alley and an 8 screen movie theater, as part of downtown instead of part of the casino.



I could see the pros and cons as the thing was in the planning, and really didn't care that much either way, but now that I see a renovated downtown with people on the streets, it's an eye opener. The city, in turn has put in new sidewalks, vintage lamp posts and done a lot with landscaping. The casino just opened last Friday and already some of the vacant storefronts across the street have been leased. They also solved some of the parking by building a 3,500 space garage which anyone going downtown can use.


The concept I was talking about would be specialty stores that would be a destination. I have to drive a distance to get supplies for my aquarium, and I believe that people looking for something in the vein of specialty, like a high quality art supply store would do the same.
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Old 08-29-2018, 02:29 PM
 
Location: The Driftless Area, WI
1,668 posts, read 634,030 times
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Everyone from TrailerTrash to JetSetters will drive 50 miles for a casino. How may will drive to get to a specialty art supply store?


[There's always money in gambling, drugs & prostitution. They say crime doesn't pay, but you gotta admit-- the hours are good ]
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Old 08-29-2018, 05:44 PM
 
372 posts, read 78,066 times
Reputation: 816
Quote:
Originally Posted by guidoLaMoto View Post
Everyone from TrailerTrash to JetSetters will drive 50 miles for a casino. How may will drive to get to a specialty art supply store?


[There's always money in gambling, drugs & prostitution. They say crime doesn't pay, but you gotta admit-- the hours are good ]

A small store with one employee doesn't need the customers a billion dollar casino with 3,000 employees does. Case in point. One of the last remaining stores in that town downtown is a mom and pop camera store that has been there for 40 years. There are so few camera stores anymore where the salespeople are actual photographers that people drive a long distance. Similarly, in my current neighborhood is a model train store - also been there for many years. It's the only one for probably 75 miles. I still think there must be a way to save those small owner operated shops and my idea, I believe, is a way to do it.
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Old 08-30-2018, 09:52 AM
 
3,978 posts, read 1,603,769 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by IWLC View Post
I used to live in a small town in New England - actually almost a suburb of a larger city and right off two major highways. It is has an old downtown area with great architecture. Several large buildings, like city hall and the old library are really beautiful. But, like many towns, it's a ghost town. The major business is a thriving German restaurant. There was a high end men's clothing store that finally gave up the struggle to stay afloat.



The problems with leasing the vacant storefronts is that A. they are small spaces B. that someone wanting to open small retail wouldn't want to be the first to open in an area with no foot traffic. People opening small businesses are often spending a lifetime of savings to do so. Stores do open in town, but they, just as quickly close.


My idea was, if you turned the entire area over to someone familiar with mall management to develop, they could orchestrate the renovation of the storefronts, promote the area, recruit retailers and the whole shopping area would open simultaneously. Also, malls avoid duplication, so there wouldn't be 3 barbers in a block.



There would also be a selection process. Things like storefront churches and pawn shops give the image of decay (there are a few of those in the town I'm talking about). Similarly, cheap signage and messy front windows are not appealing.


I wonder if anyone has ever proposed to the big chain, like Whole Foods, that they open small satellite shops, such as in the case of Whole Foods, a fruit and vegetable shop or a tea, coffee and chocolate shop.
This could be done with others too. Hobby Lobby could put in a shop selling only art supplies in a small space.


If you were to take the concept of filling a lot of spaces up at once to another level, those spaces have been empty for a long time, bringing in no income for their owners. How radical would it be to offer spaces to desirable businesses for 6 months rent free, or as a loan payable over the following couple of years? Risky, but it would give new businesses a chance to get off the ground and past the perilous opening months.


There are government urban renewal funds available for sprucing up the facades of buildings. Those could be investigated. Regular small downtown festivals (micro brews,, etc)would establish the area as a happening place. I think the artificial supports would only be needed initially until the area is re-established.


I once proposed that idea, but in a lot more detail, to the mayor. Never got a response, but I still think it could be very doable with planning and effort.
This is not a new idea but, given how retail has taken it on the chin lately, it could be an obsolete one.

The other thing? How business friendly is your state?
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Old 08-30-2018, 10:29 AM
 
372 posts, read 78,066 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MinivanDriver View Post
This is not a new idea but, given how retail has taken it on the chin lately, it could be an obsolete one.

The other thing? How business friendly is your state?

There are still small businesses scattered around. A good friend has an award winning bakery, for instance. The idea would be for the town to make it very attractive for small businesses to move to their downtown. The big difference would be that there would be a specified date for all shops to have their opening days rather than business - as a mall does rather than each lone ranger trying to make it in an empty town. An example, I can think of is Middletown Connecticut. It has one of the best small town downtowns I've seen. As well, north of me is Northampton MA and they have a thriving small downtown. I think it would be for the town (if they care - they have the tax base of a long strip of big box stores on the edge of the city) to study other successful models.


Anyway, like all ideas, those who think small and focus on the pitfalls rather than the possibilities usually win out and the deterioration continues.
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Old 08-30-2018, 12:14 PM
 
436 posts, read 180,983 times
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The only successful small business areas I have seen are in towns with a reason to have traffic downtown. A place where people want to walk around, browse and more importantly will spend money. Just offering retail is not enough. Retail is very challenged right now. So I would think along the lines of "why" would someone want to come to the town center. Once that question is answered, you can build from there.

Good examples I have personally seen: Greenville SC, Boulder CO, Santa Barbara CA, Portsmouth NH.
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