Monday, February 28, 2011

Roundup: Commercial Districts in the News, February 28, 2011

Art on First aims at luring tourists to downtown Napa, North Bay Business Journal
Numerous hotels and storefronts, along with the tourism improvement district are presenting the program as a means to keep downtown Napa and surrounding areas a tourist attraction, with activities that will draw more visitors to the city itself.

Cities consider forming a tourism special district, Ventura County Star
The partnership among the three cities would create a Tourism Business Improvement District where hotels, motels and RV parks would be assessed 1.5 percent of their total room rental revenue. The five-year assessment is expected to bring in about $1.2 million annually.

Dorchester free parking scheme set for long stay, Dorset Echo
A town in England has experimented with a parking voucher system that provides two hours of free parking for shoppers who at least spend £10 (approximately $16 dollars). The parking scheme has been hailed as a "runaway success".

Coke Gets the Mall, Pepsi Gets Downtown, Washington City Paper
PepsiCo is working with the Downtown Business Improvement District and the D.C. Department of Public Works to start a recycling program involving something called a "Dream Machine.

Sprinkles Gives Local Businesses a Sneak Peek,
A small business in the Georgetown Business Improvement District plays 'good neighbor' by offering local businesses a baker's dozen of free cupcakes before opening it's doors to the public. Nice idea!

Engaging Property Owners and Business Owners in Commercial Revitalization Efforts

One of the most challenging aspects of a commercial district manager's job is engaging property owners and businesses. Without property owner engagement, retail attraction is difficult to impossible. And without business owners, marketing and promotional efforts can miss the mark in your efforts to grow retail sales. While it can sometimes be difficult for us to understand why property owners and business owners are so reluctant to participate in our efforts, there are ways to engage property owners and business owners. So what's the answer? It starts with relationship building.

I a currently facilitating a new program by Coro New York called the Neighborhood Leadership Program. This program, funded by the New York City Department of Small Business Services, brings together 20 emerging and established leaders in commercial revitalization throughout the City of New York. It is a truly amazing group of individuals who are knee-deep every single day in the experience of managing commercial districts. So when this group of accomplished leaders started brainstorming about how to engage reticent building and business owners - you bet I took notes! Here are some of their ideas, along with some of my thoughts, about gaining trust and soliciting participating from community stakeholders.
  • A good compliment can go a long way. Flattery and deference are always helpful when starting a conversation. Find something authentic to compliment them about. I have a colleague who is quite successful at this. Whenever I walk his district and we bump into someone he knows, I am always impressed by how he takes pains to offer some tidbit of information about the person that is tremendously flattering and often deferential. It's amazing to see how these compliments leave these people beaming and ready to help and participate in any way they can. He is one of the most effective organizers I know, and one of the few people who can pick up the phone and ask anyone for anything - and they actually do it! That's alot more than I can say for most people! 
  • Diplomacy helps. When you do need to offer criticism, be diplomatic and don't criticise harshly.
  • When asking, be specific. When approaching someone with an ask, be clear about how they can help and be focused and strategic in what you are asking. Is it time? Is it money? Is it their knowledge about something in particular? Unless you know them well, flesh out your ideas in detail before making the ask.
  • Visit frequently to see how things are going. Don't just go see your building and property owners when you need something. Go see them to frequently just to check in, to see how business is doing, and to find out what you can do to help them. You'd be amazed at how having your ear to the ground and building these relationships can help you improve your job performance.
  • Figure out what your shared goals are and find a way to address those needs through your actions. If store owners are concerned about security, and you also know that security issues are hampering the entire district, tap certain business owners to participate on your security committee. If a store owner is particularly good at window displays, ask them to help other businesses in the district. This example came up recently on a visit I made to a commercial district in Philadelphia. I was amazed to see one business owner take it upon himself to help others with their window displays. As a fellow business owner, his colleagues were more willing to take his advice. This is not to say that he did not face resistance. He shared with me that it was his mission to help one particularly reticent business owner with their display. What was his tactic? Visiting frequently and building a relationship! Sound familiar?
  • Tap their interests. Find out what interests them and find a way to engage them on that issue. Do something for them. Helping your businesses and property owners is a bit like building a reserve in a bank account. The more you invest up front, the more likely they are going to reciprocate when it comes time to request a withdrawal, i.e. their participation in something you are doing.
This list is clearly not exhaustive, but what is key is that building relationships and trust is the first step in engaging your property owners and businesses in your efforts. So good luck!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"CityTarget" makes plans to open in downtown Chicago

In our on-going coverage of big-box entrants into the urban marketplace, we note that Target recently announced the opening of what they are now calling "CityTarget" at the landmark Sullivan Center in downtown Chicago ["Bull's eye for Target, city", Chicago Tribune] at some point in 2012. This marks the fourth urban format store in the U.S. The urban format is a bit smaller than Target's typical format and will include focused merchandise mix, including apartment basics, clothing and fresh food. The store will offer only 54,000 sf of selling space out of a total 125,000 sf of leased space. As a point of reference, the average Target includes 100,000 sf of sales space out of a total of 135,000 sf of leased space.

The ratio of back-of-house to selling space allows Target to place a greater merchandise selection on the sales floor, but will require more frequent restocking. Let's hope they get this right this time. The last time I walked into the Target in downtown Brooklyn, there were way too many empty shelves.

University Partners with BID to Improve Brooklyn Commercial District

The partnership forged by the Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project and Pratt Institute, a university located within the distrct, is one that I often mention when speaking about how partnerships in support of commercial district revitalization can result in a win-win for everyone. A recent NY Times article highlights the example. ["Pratt Institute Takes an Interest in Making a Neighborhood Nicer", NY Times, Feb. 15, 2011]. Pratt Institute has gone from a university that turned its back on the neighborhood to one that has made some serious investment on the corridor, whether it be in the form of leadership on the BID board or major capital investments such as Myrtle Hall (above), a $54 million building that will change the face of the district, adding vitality and most importantly, retail traffic in the form of students, on the Avenue.

Round-Up: Commercial District News, Feb. 21, 2011

A community group in Baltimore explores a local currency to support small businesses.
"Group Proposes Alternative Current to Support Local Economy", The Baltimore Sun, Feb. 21, 2011

Will the closing of Border's provide an opening for small bookstores? "Closing of Borders Could Revive Mom-and-Pops", Wisconsin Radio Network, Feb. 21, 2011

The politics of Business Improvement Districts are not always pretty. Not all BID's are well recieved once they have been created. "Rift in West Racine follows petition to terminate BID".  The Journal Times, Feb. 21, 2011

Monday, February 14, 2011

BID 'Census' Provides Insight into Standard Practices

The International Downtown Association (IDA) just released the U.S. BID Census. Commercial district management entities can use this information to compare their activities with their counterparts around the nation.

A few additional notable findings as they relate to typical BID budgets and programmatic priorities include:

  • Cleanliness and maintenance are a priority for most BIDs. According to the survey, three out of four BIDs provide litter and graffiti removal and more than half do rubbish collection and/or sidewalk washing, usually through contract.
  • Marketing and promotional activities are priorities for most BIDs. Common marketing programs are: advertising campaigns (86%); maps and area information (80%); holiday decorations (76%) and festivals (71%).
  • Security programs exist, but are not common BID activities. Relatively few BIDs have any form of security-related program. Of those that do, 25% provide uniformed "ambassadors". However, 81 BIDs (40%) also offer "ambassadors" as a marketing and hospitality service.
  • When BID's get into the business of retail leasing, they do so through marketing. Business recruitment and retention is done primarily through marketing (82%). Other related programs are: market research (62%); active recruiting (57%); and performance reporting (50%). About 30% of BIDs offer financial incentives to new or expanding businesses.
  • Funding capital improvements through debt service is uncommon. Only ten (10%) percent of BIDs reported funding debt service to pay for capital improvements.
The survey findings are available for purchase, but a short synopsis is available for free by clicking here.

Monday, February 7, 2011

One-on-One with the Owners of Pamela's P&G Diner and Winners of 'Best Chain on Main'

Gail Klingensmith and Pam Cohen tell me why investing in commercial revitalization is good for business, and what to do if you are interested in bringing a Pamela’s P&G Diner to your community.

For more on the winners, click here. For the on-line gallery hosted by the industry trade magazine Retail Traffic, click here.

How would you describe your dining concept?

Gail: We specialize in full-service breakfast and lunch 7 days a week. Everything is made to order. It’s not fine dining but it’s fast and furious.

Why is contributing to community revitalization important to you?

Gail: One of the reasons is that both Pam and I both grew up near thriving commercial districts. Pam grew up in the Squirrel Hill area of Pittsburgh where we have our first restaurant. We always loved the concept of walking to shops, the ability to get up and get out and walk for your coffee, walk for your breakfast and it used to be walk to the bookstore. We both love living in the city. Investing in these neighborhoods is the only way to keep them alive.

Pam: We like to deal with neighborhoods and we like to become involved with the community. This is not a get rich quick scheme. It’s good for everyone.

How do your efforts help improve the district?

Pam: Now that we have been around we have become an institution and a destination in the neighborhoods where we are located. We bring a substantial amount of people into the neighborhood. If Other independents benefit from our customers shopping before or after they eat.
Gail: In the beginning, when we first had one store, we were the one's who benefited from being near a destination store. In the very beginning, our Squirrel Hill location was near Little’s Shoe Store. People would drive from everywhere in the area to go to Little's. Once at Little’s they would come to us. Now we play that role for other independents.

Pam: In the Strip District, when we first went down there, it was primarily a 6 day a week business district. Nothing was happening on Sunday. Very few locations were open. At first we had the entire area to ourselves. But eventually there was enough foot traffic to our store on Sunday that gradually other businesses in the area started opening up and now there are places where diners can shop on Sundays as well.

What can other businesses learned from your success?

Gail: Take a chance.

Pam: Investing in a neighborhood helps build loyal customers.

In your Strip District location, are there additional improvements you’d like to see?

Pam: Frankly, Neighbors in the Strip has been making a lot of those improvements already. They are trying to bring in a new market and they recently attracted a grocery store. They are also starting to bring back people to live in the area. That success speaks to the impact that Neighbors in the Strip has had on the community.

Gail: Neighbors in the Strip is by far the most supportive community group we have come across. Maybe that’s what’s important to revitalization - having a group like Neighbors in the Strip to welcome new businesses and supports new businesses. They welcomed us. We didn’t know anyone. This group supported us the whole way through.

Pam: It’s been exciting to see the improvements happen, in particular in the Strip District.

Gail: One of the things that would be beneficial for all of us is more parking, although it’s a double edged sword.

Are you interested in expanding and opening up new locations?

Pam: We are always interested in growing.

What do you look for in a neighborhood?

Pam: Usually we find a neighborhood we like and start to research it first before we decide to open a new location. We look for sidewalks and people walking around. We pretty much cut across all demographics and income in terms of where we locate. We are in some of the higher end neighborhoods and also in blue collar neighborhoods that are trying to revitalize.

Gail: The building and neighborhood have to speak to us. Our most recent location is in an old car dealership with an old marble floor. We did a full rehab at that location. Pam is an artist and she sees things that I don’t.

Pam: We have stores that range from 800 sf to 4,000 sf. I think what works best is about 2,500 – 3,500 sf.

Where would you consider expansion?

Gail: We have two young women we are mentoring that are interested in growth and so we are open to more than just the Pittsburgh region. We have thought about D.C. around and are open to other cities through the region.

Pam: We are always open to hearing from communities in and out of Pittsburgh. We are looking for neighborhoods, not shopping centers.

If someone thought their neighborhood was a good fit for Pamela’s P&G Diner, what should they do?

Gail: If someone wants a P&G diner, they can email us personally.

Leasing Information:
Contact Gail or Pam via email: or

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Independent Restaurants Hit Hard by Recession

The recession has been hard on independently owned restaurants, according a recent restaurant census conducted by The NPD Group. They survey found that the number of U.S. restaurants declined by -1 percent, or a loss of 5,551 restaurants, from a year ago. However independent restaurants drove the decline, with their number of units dropping by 2 percent during the period.
“These past two years have been particularly tough for independents, which don’t have the resources to compete with the chains,” said Greg Starzynski, an NPD food-service specialist. “Over the past few years, we’ve lost several thousand independent restaurants.”

The good news is that while visits to restaurants declined by 1% over the year, this is an improvement over the 3% decline for the previous year.

Buy-Local Campaigns Boost Business Revenue

The fourth annual Independent Business Survey, conducted by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a non-profit research and educational organization, has some good news for those engaged in 'buy local' campaigns. In 2010, active 'buy local' campaigns helped boost average revenue for participating businesses by 5.6%, compared to 2.1% for those without a similar campaign. These campaigns were particularly helpful over the holidays.

Survey respondents also noted that 'buy local' campaigns help build customer loyalty, bring new customers into a business, and result in increased local media coverage. According to a clothing retailer in Asheville, NC who was cited in the report, "the buy local campaign in our area [run by the Asheville Grown Business Alliance] is only a year old, but in that year we've noticed a signficiant change in people's attitutes towards locally owned and independent businesses. People are shifting their spending habits and are focused on keeping Asheville unique and thriving." For a look at the entire report, click here.