Monday, September 21, 2009

Exploring the ‘Chain-let’ phenomenon

Many towns have them - local entrepreneurs who run successful local businesses and decide to open more, either under the same name or different names. These additional retail or restaurant outlets can be a great fit for districts where affordable rents still offer opportunities for entrepreneurs to test both new and “tried and true” concepts. From the perspective of commercial district managers, these less formulaic retail additions to the local business mix can also help create a more compelling shopping destination.

The Trend is Hitting the Mainstream Media

The New York Times highlighted this trend today in an article called “Brooklyn's Tide of Chains, Decidedly Local" . The piece explored how the phenomenon is changing the retail dynamics of Smith Street, where entrepreneurs are opening related concepts along a single street and creating a cluster of retail and restaurants that have defined the area as a regional destination for shopping and eating.

The phenomenon is by no means limited to Smith Street (although the clustering of single-owners in one area is a unique element). On a visit last year to Michigan, I visited downtown Lansing and had dinner at wonderful restaurant called Tavern on the Square, located in the heart of downtown on one of the city’s most attractive historic streets. A little investigation uncovered the fact that Tavern on the Square was but one concept of a restaurant group called Urban Feast. With four restaurant concepts in Michigan, all located in emerging downtown areas, this restaurant group is helping to revitalize long overlooked commercial districts. Although I wasn’t formally scouting for retail prospects at the time, I immediately thought my client in Grand Rapids (the Michigan outpost of the Local Initiative Support Corporation), when I realized that Urban Feast also had a concept called Grand Woods Lounge in downtown Grand Rapids.

A visit to Grand Rapids to help train a local group of community leaders in the use of “neighborhood market profiles” (a wonderful market data product originally created by the non-profit market analysis firm MetroEdge for the City of Chicago) afforded me the opportunity to visit the Grand Woods Lounge. In another interesting stroke of luck, one of the workshop participants knew the owners and indicated that they are in fact looking to expand with the addition of other restaurant concept in the area. What an exciting coincidence! We used the opportunity to discuss how the market profiles they had just received could be used to make the case to Urban Feast that some of their commercial districts were ripe for new restaurants. For more information on LISC MetroEdge, go to their website at:

No comments:

Post a Comment