Thursday, September 29, 2011

Shame on Cisneros! Don’t use the term “village” if you don't mean it

 Really now. Is this a village?
Brandford Village, a gated community in Pacoima, CA.
This week, former HUD Secretary Henry Cisnero and Executive Chairman of CityView, an institutional investment firm focused on “urban real estate” (their terminology, not mine), will lead a media tour of Brandford Village, a for-sale new home community in Pacoima, CA. Here is the problem. The 62 single-family homes that comprise Brandford Village are in fact the furthest thing from “urban” or “village” humanly possible. A village is a place that both businesses and residents call home. A real village is someplace where a child can walk to a corner store and buy a pack of gum or an ice cream cone. Where Main Street (aka the commercial district) is integral to “Elm Street” (the residential district). I mean, c’mon, this “village” doesn’t even have sidewalks! And it only gets worse. It’s a GATED community. Wow.
Frankly, I’m surprised that the Honorable Henry Cisneros, whose track record supporting urban communities is unrivaled, is letting his name and organization be used to promote a development that violates so many basic principles of urbanity. So I ask only this: Cisnero’s, please...use your influence and position to instead invest in communities that truly honor the term village, the traditional mixed-use downtown and neighborhood commercial districts, often surrounded by residential housing, that dot the American landscape. There is no shortage of these communities in need of your investment.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Managing Mix: Redefining the Downtown Anchor

In the retail industry, the word anchor is often narrowly defined. For many, an anchor store is a big box tacked on to a mall, filled with general merchandise and the words "Macy's" on the side. Downtown anchors, on the other hand, are much more diverse and eclectic, and include a slew of uses and activities that may be nontraditional in a typical shopping center, but are just right for the traditional downtown and neighborhood commercial districts.

As you consider ways to drive retail traffic to your downtown - anchors are a critical piece of the puzzle. Like a mall developer, downtown anchors define the downtown brand, so attracting an anchor, or helping to grow an anchor, inevitably becomes part of your district's strategic positioning.  But I encourage you to take a moment to define anchor more broadly. If you do, you'll begin to understand the variety of ways in which other uses play a role in driving pedestrian traffic to all of the businesses in your district.

I have found that the Urban Land Institute offers a categorization of anchors for retail entertainment destinations that is also applicable to the downtown context:

Activity generators - Traditional theatres, movie theatres, cultural and educational facilities and institutions - these are all anchors that generate activity. Visitors come to your neighborhood specifically to visit these locales. The more unique and interesting the offerings, the further people will travel to experience what your community has to offer. A great library can be a wonderful activity generator. I worked in one community where the library held daily events that drew thousands of visitors a week, both during the day and in the evening. These visitors often left the library looking for a quick bite to eat, and local coffee shops and delis were more than happy to oblige. Under the best of circumstances, activity generators support the growth of complimentary retail in the immediate vicinity (i.e. walking distance) of the activity generator that cater to the same customer. As you think about retail mix in your district, identify these activity generators and think about the kind of retail and services that would compliment the use. Engage your anchor institutions in a conversation about what goods and services they would like to see around them and use this to inform your retail leasing strategies.

Activity extenders - These activities are typically complimentary goods and services that give visitors more of a reason to stay in your district, beyond their original destination. These uses typically include restaurants and eating establishments. Nothing keeps people an extra hour than a tempting place to eat or grab a cup of coffee. I also like to make the argument that public restrooms are an important and sometimes overlooked activity extender as well. If there are no restrooms available when nature calls, a trip or visit to a store will be cut short, perhaps indefinitely. When I was pregnant I distinctly remember being pleasantly surprised that the apparel store Motherhood Maternity had a ladies room on site. "Of course!", I remember thinking, they want to keep you here as long as possible! Bookstores always have restrooms for the same reason. They know that the second you leave the store, they have lost you as a customer.

Activity inducers - These are those niche and speciality retailers that are destinations in their own right. In New York, these include unique apparel of speciality food stores (Trader Joe's comes to mind). FAO Schwartz on 5th Avenue. In my Queens neighborhood, the well-known Indian grocery store Patel Brothers serves this function as well. Great commercial districts have at least a few of these activity inducers that in some cases have become synonyms with the district. If you have one of these retailers - be sure to support their efforts to market and promote themselves.

These are but a few examples of nontraditional anchors...

Friday, September 23, 2011

News Roundup: September 23, 2011

Ardmore Initiatives's 'Downtown Dollars' effort honored [Mainline Media News, 9/23]
The Pennsylvania Downtown Center presented the Ardmore Initiative, downtown Ardmore, PA's business authority, with an award recognizing the impact that the program has had on small businesses. Four Armore banks contributed $10,000, which allowed for the printing of $20,000 dollars worth of Downtown Dollars during the winter holiday shopping period. Shoppers were able tp purchase Downtowns Dollars at a 50% discount for use in local sotres. The Dollars sold out in four minutes.

City Centre video walls an 'interactive, entertaining' first [Vancouver Sun, 9/23]
One digital media company explores marketing downtown businesses to shoppers via giant indoor digital video walls.

City to launch program to bring in retail shops downtown [Montgomery Advisor, 9/22]
A 576-square foot incubator will become home to small businesses 'testing the waters to see if there is a market for their product downtown.'

Downtown Los Angeles Looking for Unique Stores [California, 9/23]
The Downtown Center Business Improvement District is 'scouring the area's successful retail streets trying to recruit boutique owners who might want to open a second outlet in the downtown area'.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Five District-Wide Strategies to Help Small Business Owners Succeed

Helping your existing businesses succeed can be a challenging task. Small business owners are a notoriously challenging bunch. They went into business for themselves for a reason, right? They also don't want to be told how to run their businesses, least of all by someone without small business experience. If you have not built a trusting relationship with your business owners, don't start by telling them to improve their window display or change their store hours (as tempting as that might be!). That said, there are ways to help your existing businesses without seemingly lecturing them. There is a subtle difference between telling them what to do and sharing valueble information with them that can help with critical decision making. Here ar a few strategies for offering help in a way that is consistent with your role as a district manager....

1. Know where they can find free or low-bono technical assistance. Many cities have organizations that offer these services, either through a local university, the City or State. In Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh's Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence offers business owners access to expert consulting and mentorship. In New York City, the City's Business Solutions Centers in each of the five boroughs are a one-stop shop for small business services. If you don't know much about these resources, take the time to set up a meeting with the Director of these programs to introduce yourself and see how you make help your businesses make better use of their services. Once you realize what resources are out there, share this information when you visit your businesses, as well as in your newsletter and on your website.

2. Conduct market data - and then share it! Small businesses often go on gut when deciding business strategy. The next time you commission a market analysis to define your district strategy, be sure to share this valuable market data with your businesses. But don't turn it into a data dump. Take the time to interpret the data with them. Better yet, invite the firm that collected the market data to present this information. Sometimes information is better recieved when delivered by a percieved outside expert. In Pittsburgh, LISC MetroEdge provided a local Community Development Corporation with market data that indicated significant neighborhood change that was under most local business owners' radar. The organization took the time to communicate their findings with local businesses. Most significantly, they found that younger professionals were moving into the traditionally older Italian enclave. A local business owner who had been serving the older market, siezed upon this information and began growing offerings that were more reflective of a younger crowd, which meant changing her offerings to include more kitchen and houseware goods as well as cooking classes for the younger set.

3. Offer opportunities to network with other businesses. Host breakfasts and invite speakers to present on issues that businesses have told you they care about. Be sure to also leave ample time for networking over coffee. When booking speakers, take care to ensure that the topics they cover directly reflect concerns or issues that business owners have raised with you, otherwise, these busy entrepreneurs will be no-shows.

4. Engage an expert and offer direct technical assistance to your priority niche businesses. One BID director in an upstate community where I work took a very strategic approach to technical assistance. After commissioning a market study from my firm that recommended strategic positioning as a restauraunt district, the BID identified a local restaurant consultant to conduct audits of participating businesses. The audits included an in-depth analysis of the restaurants strengths and weaknesses, from front-of-the-house to back-of-the-house management issues. The consultants efforts were part of a comprehensive effort to help improve service and quality at existing restaurants in an effort to strengthen the restaurant niche overall.

5. When all else fails, know when to walk away. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, a business owner remains uninterested in our help. In these cases, you have to know when to walk away. Remember, your time, and the resources of your organization, are valuable. When this happens, demonstrate your value by helping other business owners. If your efforts are successful elsewhere, you may find a business owner who had previously rejected your help is increasingly willing to listen. Walking away, however, does not mean abandoning the relationship. But be sure to continue to visit the business owner - the chilly reception you initailly recieve may just need time to thaw.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

An easy way to generate buzz and attract businesses to your district

One often overlooked business recruitment strategy is also one of the most rewarding - celebrating your retail recruitment success stories by announcing the opening of a new businesses with great fanfare. Issuing a press release, holding a ribbon cutting, inviting key local stakeholders, these are all part of the process of building buzz for your district, buzz that can ultimately raise your profile as a great destination for retail. It is also a fantastic form of marketing for your district. You never know who will read the local newspaper coverage - be it a potential business owner or a broker with just the right retailer for your district. The idea that an objective third party (i.e. the media) is touting the district is one of the best forms of free advertising you can ask for. So don't forget to celebrate the opening! And don't forget to take great pictures and post them on your website afterwards!

Here is a link to a press release announcing two recent business openings along F and 10th in DC's East End. The release was prepared and issued by the project's developers, but it's a good model for district managers as well.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Roundup: Ideas for Downtown Marketing

There is never a shortage of creative ideas for downtown marketing and events...

Franklin Tennessee's "Downtown Tour of the Arts" is a monthly "open house" where art lovers are invited to check out interesting art and enjoy a free glass of wine and modest appetizer. For more information on the program:
["Franklin offers first Friday art crawl", The Tennessean, 8/30/11]

"Wine Walk & Shop" along Miracle Mile in Miami
Select shops on Miracle Mile serve guests a variety of light summer wines and offer special pricing on merchandise.The first 100 guests to purchase tickets receive exclusive event gift bags and complimentary valet parking, sponsored by the BID. For more information on the program:
["Wine Walk & Shop on The Mile set for September", The Miami Herald, 8/31/11]

 Bergenfield, New Jersey's "Bergenfield Bucks" Program sponsored by the Bergenfield Special Improvement District (BSID) awards  “Bergenfield Bucks” Gift Certificates, good at participating businesses located in the district as a strategy to drive visitors to downtown. For more information on the program:
["SID says Big Bucks promotion went well",, 9/1/11]
["Bergenfield Bucks",, 7/11/09]