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Old 07-13-2012, 09:02 AM
 
Location: Pittsburgh, PA (Morningside)
5,341 posts, read 3,241,322 times
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Coming off of Brian's article about Amazon, I've thought for awhile that storefront retail has shown no signs of coming back after the recent recession. Indeed, in some sectors, the crisis has only deepened.

Within the city proper, only three types of storefronts seem to be doing well.

1. Restaurants
2. Bars
3. Boutiques which focus on rare/local goods which cannot be found easily online.

More storefronts are occupied than this of course. However, many are occupied by services which don't really need storefronts (yoga studios, that new "prenatal education" place in Lawrenceville), or else small offices.

My impression is things are worse in the suburbs, as many major chains are being squeezed - particularly specialty chains, which are losing customers to big box/discount stores on one side, and amazon on the other.

So it's fair to say, like many metro areas, we have far too much retail space for current needs, and even as the population increases, as a younger population becomes consumers, they will check into stores less and less, meaning further declines are likely in the future.

The question is, where could we "de-commercialize"? It's a tough balance. The logical thing to suggest at first glance would be to kill the floundering districts, in hopes that the businesses will relocate to the stronger ones. However, this is probably poorly founded. For example, Bryant Street in Highland Park isn't really doing all that well, but even in its half-formed state, it provides some appeal to the local community. Probably most of the successful businesses wouldn't do as well somewhere else, as they'd face local competition. Also, consolidating commercial on a few streets means that you'd ultimately have more road congestion, as people from now-purely residential areas would have to drive to go out to eat or go to a bar.

So perhaps the better goal is to shorten commercial areas. One example is the portion of Penn Avenue running roughly from Doughboy Square to Main Street. Although technically still zoned commercial, all of the new construction has been residential infill. There's still a lot of storefronts - many of which are essentially unoccupied - but the direction this bit of Penn is going is probably for the better.

I could throw out a few other ideas I've had bubbling in my head, but first I figure I'll throw it to the peanut gallery for comments.
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Old 07-13-2012, 09:54 AM
 
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One missing category is that there are some what you might call "basic" things that people still use in neighborhood commercial areas--drug stores, banks, pet-related places, and so on. You can make a case a lot of that will also face increasing online competition, but right now that sort of stuff is holding up reasonably well.

Anyway, I think you more or less already sketched out what I would suggest for the core, walkable neighborhoods. With enough residential infill, you can still support a decent number of places in these three categories (restaurants/bars, boutiques, and basics). Depending on the circumstances, you could even add a bit more retail (say as ground floors in multi-level apartment buildings). But I agree that big expansions of retail are not necessarily a good idea even in neighborhoods with a lot of planned infill.

All that said, I'd make a few exceptions, perhaps most notably East Liberty. East Liberty was the traditional commercial center for the East End, and I think it can return to that status (and indeed is already well on its way).

As for retail-only complexes (strip malls and such) in suburban/exurban areas--that's a big problem. I think a lot of that stuff is ultimately going to get bulldozed (in fact, I am also thinking the same thing about the strip malls near East Liberty), but for now a lot of it is likely to be used for various services which do not necessarily need storefronts (medical-related conversions alone are a huge growth area these days).
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Old 07-13-2012, 11:15 AM
 
Location: Pittsburgh, PA (Morningside)
5,341 posts, read 3,241,322 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BrianTH View Post
One missing category is that there are some what you might call "basic" things that people still use in neighborhood commercial areas--drug stores, banks, pet-related places, and so on. You can make a case a lot of that will also face increasing online competition, but right now that sort of stuff is holding up reasonably well.
I thought about listing this stuff, but it's more "surviving" than "doing well." It's not as if new businesses really open in these areas frequently. Also, if I were going to split hairs, most of these are not retail. Banks, vets, pet grooming places, eye care facilities, etc are all essentially retailers of services, with a small amount of goods for sale as well. Drugstores are the main exception. Still, except for a few like Heiber's in Oakland, most have become chain which are essentially large convenience stores with a pharmacy in the back. While convenience stores are probably here to stay, I'm not sure the drugstore component will last - particularly since insurers push people with financial incentives towards mail-order 90-day prescriptions when possible.


Quote:
Originally Posted by BrianTH View Post
As for retail-only complexes (strip malls and such) in suburban/exurban areas--that's a big problem. I think a lot of that stuff is ultimately going to get bulldozed (in fact, I am also thinking the same thing about the strip malls near East Liberty), but for now a lot of it is likely to be used for various services which do not necessarily need storefronts (medical-related conversions alone are a huge growth area these days).
Yeah, I think the days of the Shakespeare Giant Eagle (and the rest of that complex) are numbered. I could see the Trader Joe's strip mall hanging on for longer, but it could be only that building really survives and the rest is redeveloped into residential.

More generally, I have wondered recently about the possibility of the City getting commercial-focused retail out of the city core. I'm thinking about places the auto-body shops and mini-warehouses which are in the upper portions of the Strip District around Penn Avenue. There's some similar businesses in and around Baum Boulevard. I would think it would be pretty helpful to relocate them on say the main commercial drags in the southern part of the city like West Liberty Avenue - areas which will never be walkable, and will never fill in all of the missing teeth with new stripmall retail.
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Old 07-13-2012, 11:24 AM
 
Location: Virginia
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If you remove commercial districts and redevelop them into residential only areas, would that hurt the image of Pittsburgh's walkability? It seems like being a compact city with walkability is one of the Burgh's big selling points
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Old 07-13-2012, 11:41 AM
 
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I think you want to be careful about business-oriented retail, because you don't want to make the costs of doing business (particularly for smaller local businesses) too high, and time and transportation costs can be important. So, there is something to be said for having little pockets of business-oriented retail scattered around.

By the way, I think walkability ultimately is determined by what sorts of retail people actually want. I definitely do not think extinguishing all neighborhood-level retail would be a good idea, but exactly how much and of what sort of mix should be up to local consumers.
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Old 07-13-2012, 11:49 AM
 
Location: Athens, GA (via Pittsburgh, PA)
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I think each neighborhood should have at least a drug store and a convenience store in it.
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Old 07-13-2012, 11:54 AM
 
Location: ɥbɹnqsʇʇıd
4,447 posts, read 3,169,050 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gnutella View Post
I think each neighborhood should have at least a drug store
That's one thing that will never be a problem in this city.

To quote comedian Jim Norton, "what, does everyone in this city have AIDS?"
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Old 07-13-2012, 12:11 PM
 
2,171 posts, read 1,633,373 times
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Market Trend: Pittsburgh's Retail Vacancy Decreases to 5.0% - CoStar Group

Quote:
Market Trend: Pittsburgh's Retail Vacancy Decreases to 5.0%

Net Absorption Positive 306,521 SF in the Quarter


By Justin Sumner
May 29, 2012

...
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Old 07-13-2012, 12:14 PM
 
Location: Pittsburgh, PA (Morningside)
5,341 posts, read 3,241,322 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Caladium View Post
If you remove commercial districts and redevelop them into residential only areas, would that hurt the image of Pittsburgh's walkability? It seems like being a compact city with walkability is one of the Burgh's big selling points
IIRC, walk scores are defined by the amount of businesses within a certain radius. Empty storefronts, to say nothing of vacant commercial land, don't exactly add to them. The question is more one of where under-utilized business districts can be shrunk to manageable size.

As an example, a huge proportion of the Hill District is in theory commercial, including much of Centre, Wylie, Herron, and some scattered parcels around Webster/Kirkpatrick/Bedford. In practice, virtually no extant businesses exist besides a few nonprofit social service type agencies and a few run-down auto repair places. If the Hill District makes a comeback, I could see Centre alone becoming a nice commercial corridor, but commerce has changed too much since the riots which destroyed these areas - I just don't see the rest returning.

Quote:
Originally Posted by BrianTH View Post
I think you want to be careful about business-oriented retail, because you don't want to make the costs of doing business (particularly for smaller local businesses) too high, and time and transportation costs can be important. So, there is something to be said for having little pockets of business-oriented retail scattered around.
I understand what you mean. The Strip District is just a mess as it currently exists though. I commute through it by bike almost every day, and it's such a mishmash. You have small-manufacturing next to business-to-business commercial. New converted lofts next to warehouses. Offices next to some lonely surviving rowhouses. Collision shops next to restaurants.

While the growth in residential is a great thing, I feel like if there was some segregation, say keeping the storefront commercial below 23rd, where it is densest, and allowing more residential to be rebuilt on Penn above this (where some remaining stands of old rowhouses remain) it would help have some semblance of neighborhood order.
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Old 07-13-2012, 12:54 PM
 
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I kind of like the Strip as a jumble. And I think you will find over time that as residential infill continues, a sort of order will organically emerge. That said, I endorse the land swap deals that are moving some of the bigger industrial users farther up river.
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