Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Creating a successful open street

Last month, I got up on a beautiful Saturday afternoon to the sound of loud, popular music from a neighboring street. As I followed the music, I was brought to Tompkins Avenue in the residential neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, where I was faced with gridlock traffic. Every car was being rerouted to Gates Avenue because, as it turns out, Tompkins Avenue was closed to vehicles for the annual Tompkins Avenue Merchants Association (TAMA) Summerfest.

TAMA Summerfest is a local open streets event organized in partnership by local Bridge Street Corporation and Tompkins Avenue Merchants Association, and this year it was in its 4th year running. Since its inception in 2013, the open streets event has more than doubled in size from only covering two blocks between Hancock Street and Putnam Avenue to a full four blocks between Hancock St and Monroe St.

All over the country, Open Streets programs have sprang in numbers from only 10 of such programs a decade ago to over 70 by the end of 2011. In New York, we call it 'Weekend Walks' – multi- block, multi-day events on commercial corridors supported by NYC Department of Transportation. They also entail closing traditional streets to automobiles and converting them into temporary public spaces for pedestrians and cyclists. As with other types of public spaces, a variety of activities is often programmed to occur on the street, for example, musical performances and catwalk shows on Tompkins Avenue. These programs often attract local residents in the neighboring areas but also increasingly attract visitors from much farther away, which might result in higher-than-normal foot traffic for local businesses lining the street.

However, as I found at TAMA Summerfest, the activities programmed on the street only work best for businesses when:

1. They relate to the services and goods already available at adjacent storefronts

I sat along Tompkins Avenue during the Summerfest observing users of the street and found that food vendors out on the street had a very organic relationship with the local bars and wine stores. The products offered were complementary so as visitors walked away with snacks in hand, they would venture slowly over to Bed Vyne Brew to get a cup of sangria, wine, or soda.

In addition, many of the established businesses on Tompkins Avenue were also active street vendors during the Summerfest and were creating physical outdoor extensions of their already existing or soon-to-be storefronts. As a result, many customers were seen venturing further into storefronts after perusing the small selection of products on display out on the street.

In fact, a study of open streets programs by Hipp et al, 2012, in St Louis supports this observation. 73% of participants in an open streets program in St Louis had spent money at a nearby business and 68% became newly aware of a store/ restaurant. These findings certainly bode well for the merchants on Tompkins Avenue.

2. Sprinkled throughout the corridor and not just concentrated on one end or another

Overall, areas along the street that were punctuated with a hub of activities found visitors lingering for longer periods of time. From my observations, I noticed parents would browse products in store windows while their children played in the bounce castles, and younger women were getting their nails done outdoors as their spouses finished their beers. 

In the same study of open streets in St Louis in 2011, each participant reportedly spent an average of 108 minutes on the route, which might have translated to increased expenditure at nearby businesses. 

However, on Tompkins Avenue, there was a distinctly inactive zone at the intersection of Madison Street (see diagram above). This was a result of no programmed activities in that area, aside from one vendor selling mobile phone covers. Not only was the product offered not complementary to the Chinese food stall behind it, it was sitting isolated from all the other activities on the street. Businesses such as Calabar Imports, a specialty home goods and furnishing store, located across from the Chinese take-out restaurant, did not appear to benefit from cross shopping as a result of the inactive zone. It's therefore important to ensure that an even spread of activities and street vending occurs along the open streets route to avoid a dip in vibrancy in the public space that might affect the foot traffic to the few businesses located around an inactive zone.

Aside from this single inactive zone, however, the Summerfest on Tompkins Avenue appeared to be a lively event that showcased local businesses on the corridor (new and existing!) and that seemed to work on the whole as a public space. There were pedestrians, cyclists, skaters and even parents with strollers throughout the corridor that afternoon. Merchants were interacting with customers in the open space, promoting products and services offered on a regular basis, and ultimately ensuring a return visit was in the works.

The 0.25 mile open street on Tompkins Avenue certainly had all the features recommended to encourage local economic and community development. Local businesses were set up as active street vending participants and the program was organized in partnership by the local merchants association and not-for-profit Bridge Street Corporation. Finally, the free public activities including the NY Public Library mobile library and music performances were critical in getting local residents to participate on the day itself.

I hope TAMA Summerfest continues to enliven the commercial corridor in my neighborhood for years to come and hopefully this brief social observation study provides an insight to how they might improve the positioning and programming of activities along the corridor in future iterations. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Retail Mistakes in Santiago Calatrava's Oculus

No one is saying the space is not beautiful. Ok, maybe SOME people are, but in my mind, architect Santiago Calatrava added something very special to downtown Manhattan in his stunning, and stunningly overbudget, Oculus. Shopping there, however, is another thing entirely.

The Oculus doubles as a transportation hub for New Jersey PATH trains and as a Westfield shopping center and while it serves it's purpose, I was shocked at how poorly thought out the retail components of the project are. Getting urban retail right - particularly vertical retail - can be a challenge as a new Citylab article on the historic trials and tribulations of urban shopping malls makes clear.  Yet the article speaks to solutions that were clearly not put in place at Westfield World Trade Center. The aesthetics may be beautiful (though the leaky roof and wet marble fall are likely keeping attorney's busy), my experience as a shopper left me confused and frustrated. A few things I noted...

Challenging Circulation Patterns. This picture was taken from the central "piazza". My first question was...how do you get from where I'm standing up to that overlook? The elevator doesn't go to the first floor and neither do the stairs. Hmm...

Yet another image, this time from the second floor. It's nice that the stairs float, but again, how do I get down to the first level of shopping? I couldn't find a single sign directing me to the escalators (which I did eventually find, but they were of course hidden from plain view in deference to the architecture, because really, it is hard to dress up a functional escalator). Finding ways to get from one floor to another was confusing and frustrating. Is this how a retailer wants their customers to remember the shopping experience?And what about those commuters who are in a rush? If the elevator doesn't go down to the PATH level, those customers have to double back to the middle of the piazza to find an escalator. When a few minutes may mean missing a commuter train, the answer for many will be "no way".

Poor Directional Signage. Here I am, finally, at the escalator and elevator on the second floor trying to get down to the first floor. It is nice that there is a sign directing me UP and OUT to a variety of things - the 9/11 Memorial, One World Trade Center, One World Observatory, and Greenwich Street - but not a single sign for where to go DOWN for more shopping.
Seemingly Non-Existent Store signage. Can you even tell what that store is selling? I had a very difficult time figuring out it out until I walked right up to the window (hint. Apple products. Ok, that was more than a hint). Perhaps the designers thought signage would distract from the design (they were probably right), but it also undermines retailers ability to raise awareness and drive foot traffic. 

It also strikes me that there is a mismatch between the most frequent potential customers (those going to PATH trains) and the retailers who occupy the stores, particularly on the piazza. While having an Apple store there makes sense, Hugo Boss and John Varvatos a little less so. To be fair, more accessible retailers can be found hidden, and I mean hidden (again, no signage directing you there) in the South Concourse.

While I don't know for sure, my sense is that high end brands were convinced to locate here for the vanity of it, but in the end, sales won't quite cover costs. The few times I've been there so far I have not seen many people shopping in any of the higher end clothing stores or boutiques. I'd be curious to see what happens at the end of some of the lease terms. I imagine turnover is likely. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

FREE Resource! Tips to Make Your P3 Pavilion Journey at ICSC Deal Making a Success

If you missed last week’s ICSC webinar on strategies for Public-Private-Partnership (P3) success at Deal Making events, no problem! A recording is available HERE. This is a great FREE resource for public and non-profit entities considering participating in Deal Making but not sure where or how to begin. 

And for those hoping to do more than just walk the floor, another good opportunity to consider are the ICSC P3 Pavilions that allow public and non-profit partners to maintain a low-cost, turnkey kiosk and have a physical presence on the trade show floor. These kiosks are part of a branded area dedicated solely to P3 public and non-profit partners. The goal is to use this area to raise awareness among all of ICSC members about the P3 effort and to help participating communities find interested partners, retailers and developers.

If you are thinking about attending ICSC, be sure to check out the webinar and consider snagging a kiosk early as they do go quickly. P3 Pavilions will be featured at five upcoming events. 
  • Chicago Deal Making, September 27 – 28 | Chicago, IL
  • Western Conference & Deal Making, October 2 – 4 | Los Angeles, CA
  • Canadian Convention, October 2 – 4 | Toronto, ON
  • Texas Conference & Deal Making, November 8 – 10 | Dallas, TX
  • New York Deal Making, December 6 – 7 | New York, NY
The webinar has more information on how to apply. And if LOA can be of help as you prepare for Deal Making, please let us know!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Parking Lots to Public Spaces

In recent months we've talked a lot about parking issues downtown - whether to keep your lots and garages, how to keep and maintain them, whether to lower parking minimums. I assure you our rants about parking lots and garages are well-founded. If you need to be reminded, there are about 500 million parking spaces throughout the country occupying about 3,590 square miles, as last reported in 2012. Furthermore, in some cities in the U.S., parking lots cover more than 30 percent of the local land area, according to Eran Ben-Joseph, a professor of urban planning at M.I.T. who wrote "ReThinking A Lot." Often, these parking lots downtown are owned and/ or managed by municipalities which means they are in fact public land that should be enjoyed by the public.

Pike Place MarketFront (After)
Many cities have become privy to this fact and are increasingly taking a more human-centric approach toward parking spaces and lots and are turning them into the rightful public spaces that they should be. Many of these strategies often start with smaller, guerrilla tactics such as weekly farmers markets in parking lots, or seasonal cultural events, before getting buy-in from local communities to structurally transform the lots into public plazas/ squares, and even light manufacturing spaces (as in the case of Seattle’s latest Pike Place MarketFront). Architects have also increasingly been introducing green design to parking lots for decades now to improve the pedestrian environment downtown. They are incorporating more flora and fauna, and natural permeable paving materials that mitigate storm water runoff and urban heat island effects common in downtowns with high density.

Parklets are another common strategy being employed in major cities to reclaim parking spots for conversion into public spaces. This strategy, while helpful in building support among local businesses and residents to lower parking supply in downtowns, only manages to typically reclaim one or two parking spaces for a limited amount of time. When we start to think bigger, we are able to convert entire parking lots into larger public spaces such as public plazas and parks and we would be reclaiming on average 50-100 parking spaces in one fell swoop.

Here are some examples of parking lots in downtown areas that have been strategically transformed into public spaces. Each case shows that there are incredible social and economic benefits to be reaped from reclaiming parking spaces.

Fort Worth, TX– Sundance Square [Completed in 2013]

Sundance Square (Before - 2007) PC: GoogleMaps
Sundance Square (After - 2016) PC: GoogleMaps
Sundance Square now occupies land that once was home to two separate parking lots (each with more than 60 spaces) across from each other along Main Street in downtown Fort Worth. The Plaza now offers residents, workers and visitors a large space for events, programs and individual use. Public workshops were facilitated by PPS throughout the planning process. "Through the open discussions, it became clear that people mostly thought of downtown Fort Worth as an area to pass through, but not a destination in itself..." and there was no gathering space sufficient enough for large downtown events, which the community felt was important. The community also felt that "the neighborhood could use more places for food and other necessities" so this was addressed by activating the edges of the plaza with more ground floor commercial establishments. The restaurants on the ground floor also feature outdoor seating fronting the plaza and encourage active surveillance of the public space. In addition, the plaza also features water fountains that are interactive and fitting for the warm climate in Texas. 

Montreal, Canada – Joseph Venne Public Plaza [Completed in 2014]
Joseph Venne Public Plaza (Before) PC: GoogleMaps
The Joseph Venne Public Plaza is much smaller in size compared with Sundance Square. It only measures about 10,000 SF and was formerly the site of a parking lot with 20+ spaces. The parking lot's transformation was part of a larger neighborhood revitalization project in the Sainte-Marie neighborhood.

Joseph Venne Public Plaza (After) PC: Steve Montpetit
The site is located adjacent to historic buildings including the JTI-Macdonald Corp building, a well-known tobacco factory and also the CSDM, a French boarding school that was once used as a primary school for tobacco factory workers. The plaza therefore serves to connect the two historic buildings while providing an inviting space for students, workers and residents in the vicinity to gather outdoors in the warmer months. The space was also designed to be ecologically sustainable and today serves as a natural retreat for locals with its greenery, water fountain and wooden benches. 

Pike Place MarketFront (After) PC: GoogleMaps
Seattle, WA – Pike Place MarketFront [Completed in 2017]
Most recently, Pike Place Marketfront has been unveiled as the latest parking lot transformation. Measuring about 39,500 SF, the site was formerly a parking lot with structural remnants of the Municipal Market building. The site now not only features a 30,000 SF public plaza with views of the Puget Sound and Mount Rainier, but it's also the site of new vendor spaces and low-income senior housing. The project was led by the City of Seattle and the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority and also engaged in a community planning process. 

Pacific Plaza Park (After)

Dallas, TX – Pacific Plaza Park [In Progress]
Finally, still in progress, is the Pacific Plaza Park in downtown Dallas. In March this year, Dallas City Council approved a development agreement to build the Pacific Plaza Park. The public space has been made possible through a partnership between the City of Dallas Park and Recreation Department, the Trust for Public Land and local non-profit Parks for Downtown Dallas. The park will site on the former site of a parking lot in downtown Dallas and will become the city's newest destination, bringing benefits to workers downtown seeking outdoor places to enjoy lunch, and also to nearby businesses by bringing in greater foot traffic.
Pacific Plaza Park (Before)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Why is retail important to building strong communities?

Whole Foods Market covers over 428,000SF of ground floor 
retail space in St Paul, MN.
Our work at LOA often entails diagnosing problems facing neighborhood retail corridors and offering recommendations and actions to take to revitalize these areas. More often than not, these retail corridors were once vibrant commercial districts that fell into decline following demographic shifts. This, as we all know, was a result of the flight that took place in the 60s and 70s as many middle to higher income families left urban neighborhoods for suburban homes. This shift led to urban neighborhoods falling into decay with increasing pockets of disinvestment and retail stores closing from the lack of residential and worker spending. Most recently, we have seen the trend impacting South Fourth in Mount Vernon, NY where retailers are struggling to attract local customers with poor sidewalk infrastructure, vacant lots and decaying buildings. Fortunately, this trend is beginning to reverse as more people move back to downtown neighborhoods and reap the benefits of living, working and playing in close proximity.

As this upward trend continues for urban neighborhoods, there is now an urgent need to revitalize the formerly vibrant neighborhood retail corridors that were home to a variety of businesses. Promoting and enabling neighborhood retail corridors can take the form of tenant recruitment and marketing strategies, however this assumes that the corridors already have existing physical assets to support existing businesses and attract new ones.

The typical market-led business attraction strategies may only serve to better inform commercial real estate agents and potential retail tenants about the untapped opportunity and market demand in these revitalizing neighborhoods. However, often, these neighborhoods themselves don’t have sufficient viable commercial spaces to support the retail tenants that might be interested in the market. This would then call for redevelopment and more specifically, mixed use developments that can both provide housing for residents hoping to move back to urban areas and provide commercial space for retail, restaurants and even offices.

In fact, the most direct intervention to promote neighborhood retail development is to develop new commercial real estate in the form of ground floor retail spaces and these may be led by the public sector, private sector, or even public-private partnerships. In fact, public sector-led projects can often “act as catalysts of further neighborhood development, with the expectation being that public investment in one or more key initial projects will lead to greatly increased private (unsubsidized) development activity.”

As urban neighborhoods start to get back on their feet with more ground floor retail, a myriad of economic and social benefits may also arise for local residents, particularly in areas that are still seeing a concentration of poverty or lower income families.
One South Market development in downtown San Jose.
Firstly, the presence of neighborhood retail at ground floor often has an incredible impact on overall neighborhood vibrancy and safety, and can create a positive image for the area. In fact, neighborhood retail has often been described as the ‘front door’ to a community, acting as a signal for the direction and types of changes occurring in the area. As retail offerings and storefronts improve, locals also will likely perceive the whole neighborhood as improving and becoming more vibrant.

In fact, ground floor retail, when designed well with transparent facades and welcoming signage, can result in additional lighting on the streets in the evening. If the stores operate into the night, for example restaurants and convenience stores, then these businesses will also contribute to more eyes on the street with patrons and employees coming in and out of the stores. These traits although often negligible can certainly contribute to neighborhood safety and other quality of life factors.

Neighborhood retail can also serve to provide key services to residents in the immediate area, including medical facilities, daycare centers, hair and personal care salons, and finance and tax service centers. These services would be especially important in neighborhoods that are attracting young families with children and working parents. Over time, the easy access to these amenities can even influence the location decisions of more households, potentially inviting even greater retail market demand from local residents.
Shops + Lofts at 47 in Chicago,IL features 55,000SF of retail

In addition, the retail and offices that fill ground floor commercial spaces can often become main employers for urban neighborhoods. Shops & Lofts at 47 in Chicago, IL for example is a mixed use development with over 55,000 ground floor retail SF. It is currently occupied by a Walmart Neighborhood Market, Subway, Burger King, Associated Bank and Uncle Remus Chicken, and as of 2016, there were about 35 full time employees working in the single development. Other than retail, medical service centers located on ground floors are also well-paying employers (in fact, ground floor commercial spaces are often suited to large medical institutions seeking outposts for supplementary services such as eye clinics). Overall, retail and services in revitalizing urban neighborhoods provide great job and even entrepreneurship opportunities, particularly in lower income areas.

Finally, neighborhood retail is key in solving for food deserts. Often neighborhoods that have experience the decline and decay of previous decades have lost major anchor grocery stores and are now the face of healthy food equity gap. By creating new and well-equipped spaces for large and small grocery stores to enter the neighborhood, many more residents will be able to gain access to fresh produce and essential goods that were not so easily available. Some revitalizing urban neighborhoods have even seen immigrant business owners that are bravely entering new retail spaces, offering culture-specific grocery items and thriving.

Pinecrest project in Cleveland will feature ground floor 
retail, office, residential, and public plazas.
Retail is important to building strong communities in our neighborhoods as it contributes to street vibrancy, neighborhood safety, job opportunities, and access to key services and healthy food.  As we continue our work on neighborhood retail revitalization and leading development, or business attraction strategies in emerging neighborhoods, we need to maximize the benefits to local residents who will continue to live, work and play in these areas for years to come. 

For more resources, check out:
Beyard, Michael D., Michael Pawlukiewicz, and Alex Bond. Ten Principles for Rebuilding Neighborhood Retail. Washington, D.C.: ULI–the Urban Land Institute, 2003. http://uli.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/TP_NeighborhoodRetail.ashx_1.pdf

What difference can a few stores make? Retail and neighborhood revitalization. Rick Jacobus and Karen Chapple, 2010. http://communityinnovation.berkeley.edu/reports/Retail-and-neighborhood-revitalization.pdf

Monday, July 31, 2017

Will Amazon Prime Restaurant kill the dining industry?

In 2015, Amazon started its slow roll out of Amazon Prime Restaurant in Seattle. Its food delivery service is unlike that of startup giants such as Grubhub and UberEats. The service has since quickly spread across a few markets including Dallas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Diego, Austin, Atlanta, Miami, Baltimore, Portland, and of course New York City.

If you’re an Amazon Prime member in any one of these markets (and it’s highly likely you are since Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimated over 63 million Prime members in 2016), then 1-hour food delivery service is available to you with no delivery fee.

Furthermore, Amazon Prime Restaurants boasts only the best, quality local restaurants on its platform and claims to be assisting small businesses that have never entered home delivery services to finally enter the online delivery market. I was surprised myself when I finally opened Amazon Prime Restaurant on my couch last night and found Aita Trattoria on the list of restaurants delivering to my address. Aita’s is a local Italian restaurant in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn widely known for fresh, seasonal ingredients – which makes it quite the neighborhood dinner destination. I’ve lived in Brooklyn for almost four years now and have never been able to get a table without waiting 40 minutes so to find out that I can simply just click a button to order their delicious bucatini and wait in the comforts of my home was simply astounding. Furthermore, once an order has been placed, a nifty little feature on Amazon Restaurants allows you to track your delivery on a real time map so you’re not waiting cluelessly on your couch.

This discovery, while exciting, also led to me to worry around what this latest proliferation of Amazon’s services might do to the foot traffic in commercial corridors, and consequently the dining industry. Especially restaurants in neighborhood commercial corridors that mainly rely on local residents to eat out on weekends and weekday nights. After all, many of today’s commercial districts continue to be anchored by food and drinking places. Amazon, without even accounting for Amazon Restaurants and its sales, has already led to some decline in overall foot traffic. In fact, foot traffic fell by 32 percent among users of the Amazon App according to research firm Sense360, who also claim it’s been two full years since restaurants could report a decent traffic month.

Sure, restaurants still make up 15 percent of all retail sales and the expenditure data shows that U.S. consumers are spending more on dining in restaurants than on buying groceries but how much of these sales are actually made in person at the restaurant versus made online on the couch via Grubhub or Ubereats or Amazon Restaurants? Also, if the National Restaurant Association surveys are right and 8 in 10 consumers are dining out due to perceptions of convenience from not having to cook or clean up, then ordering more food online to be delivered within an hour to our doorstep would certainly fit the convenience criteria – especially if friends and family already live nearby and if the weather is bad outside. (I was certainly not going out to dinner last Saturday while the summer storms were in full swing.)

The proliferation of online delivery services for restaurants also means that the industry’s profit margins are getting smaller and smaller. As it is, real estate, labor and taxes already make up some of the largest share of operating a restaurant. Now, businesses will also have to worry about being charged by Amazon to deliver their food to stay-at-home customers. As Amazon has pledged not to mark up the cost of menu items, it is instead shifting the burden to restaurants in the form of an undisclosed percent charge of each order. Of course we already knew this – Grubhub, Postmates and Seamless all charge restaurants roughly 12-24 percent of checks to use their delivery services, however, Amazon is reportedly taking 27.5 percent of checks from partnered restaurants.

So while Amazon aims to keep the gap between diners’ cost of buying groceries and ‘restaurant dining’ minimal, small restaurants and eateries will bear the brunt of the costs with smaller profit margins and fewer people walking into their establishments and their neighbors’.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Retail in Coastal Towns

The season for sun, sand and sangria is upon us. As families and young professionals along the coast flock to the nearest beach towns for weekends or even a few months, retailers are also following suit. The latest trend in these coastal summer towns is the clustering of pop-up retailers and restaurateurs that have already established themselves in the nearest metropolitan city.

In Montauk and the Hamptons, for example, we’re seeing brands and restaurants that we’re already familiar with here in New York City. In a 2017 Hamptons Guide released by Guest of a Guest, a NYC lifestyle site, more than half of the featured retailers and food and drinking places were outposts of NYC stores. Arbor, for example, an outdoor bar and dining area has reportedly returned to Montauk for a second summer. It is run by Den Hospitality and is an expansion of the Manhattan bar The Garett. Likewise with Eleven Madison Park Summer house, the outpost of Eleven Madison Park restaurant by Michelin-starred Chef and Co-Owner Daniel Humm. In apparel, go-to women’s summer clothing brand The Reformation opened this season in East Hampton. Here in NYC, it has stores in neighborhoods like the Lower East Side and SoHo.

These retailers unfortunately are driving short-term leases in these coastal summer towns through the roof and while this has been helpful for property owners and landlords that struggle in seasonal markets, the retailers disappear after Labor Day for the next 8 months leaving empty storefronts… and less-than-happy residents.

We all know that coastal summer towns are popular areas for second homes and while this leads to high housing vacancy rates*, they also often affect the retail and commercial markets. When the part-time population leaves the coastal summer town for 8 months of the year, the full time live-in population left behind can barely support the retail square footage that is available in town. On a visit to Montauk on a surprisingly warm weekend in April, I was welcomed into town by closed or vacant storefronts being renovated for summer tenants. I could not imagine being a resident of Montauk in the autumn and winter months with almost no retail offerings available on Main Street. (Of course, the picture is much different now in the middle of July.)

To make matters worse, seasonal customers often have very different lifestyle preferences, median incomes, and median ages than the live-in residents, which results in a segmented market demand in these coastal summer towns. This means that retailers that are solely attracted to coastal summer towns for the trendy young summer customer may often overlook the needs and preferences of the live-in residents –driving an even greater divide between the customer groups. A quick look at the demographics of Montauk NY, Chatham MA and Block Island RI, all popular coastal summer towns, quickly showed that live-in residents in these places are much older, more car-dependent, and more traditional in taste and “stick to the brands they know” (not exactly the experimental pop-up brand supporter).

Furthermore, live-in permanent residents by default need year-round convenience goods and services versus temporary art galleries or summer clothing stores that strive to entertain the visitor for a couple of weeks. Balancing the retail mix in these towns is hard but when retailers follow migratory habits of customers, it is often the resident that loses the battle.
The light at the end of the tunnel for these coastal summer towns, however, lies with the abundance of experience-based businesses. Food and drinking places, personal care service facilities, indoor fitness studios, and entertainment venues still make up the lion’s share of the retail mix in these towns and for the most part they stay through the year.

These businesses support the tourism and accommodation sectors, and more importantly contribute to an overall experience of relaxation and retreat that even residents crave on weekends. Through rain, shine, or snow, the live-in residents continue to eat, drink and play at these coastal towns’ niche seafood restaurants and indoor fitness studios. In Montauk, even Gurneys Resort and Spa has introduced indoor stand-up paddleboard yoga in the heated seawater pool of the hotel available in the cool seasons.

The experience-based businesses certainly are more apt to modify their services and amenities in these seasonal coastal towns and certainly can sustain the vibrancy of the towns year-round. The coastal towns themselves however need to ensure that their zoning codes and ordinances are supportive of such experience-based businesses especially when new and innovative indoor activities are introduced along commercial corridors of these towns that may not be an allowable use in the ordinance, such as yoga studios or art studios. In fact, in East Hampton, residents have complained that restrictions on establishments that serve food or drinks have dampened the opening of the more experience-based restaurants on Main Street.

In light of the constantly changing retail environment of coastal summer towns, flexibility for retailers is important. Outdated land use restrictions – particularly those that prevent businesses from testing new concepts and incorporating new offerings – limits the ability of retailers to diversify their revenue streams in the cooler seasons and to meet the demands of the year-round live-in residents of these coastal towns.