Wednesday, October 19, 2011

BID's efforts pay off for residents, businesses with street closure and block party

The energy and excitement captured by this video tell the story of Putnam Plaza, a segment of street in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn that was recently closed to traffic. Its new life as a public plaza was celebrated with a block party that had people, literally, dancing in the streets. Local cafes and convenience stores did a brisk business as well.

This event was a true community affair, led by the the Fulton Area Business Alliance (a Business Improvement District), which sponsored the plaza. Phil Kellog, a Coro Neighborhood Leadership alum, shared his project with us at our final session where every participant shared the story of a project that they had worked on throughout the course of the program. Phil managed all coordination with city agencies necessary to make this project a reality. The plaza is yet another reason why BID's are an excellent community investment. 

Here's a great feel good video by a local filmmaker that captures the excitement and makes ya wanna dance!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Inside Retail Attraction: Going after the Regional Independents

Most of the communities I work with recoil slightly when I say "chain store" and "retail attraction" in the same sentence. In fact, after CDA's inaugural 'Best Chain on Main' contest was over last year and the winners were announced, I heard from a number of organizations who mentioned that they were reticent to submit a business for consideration because they didn't think it fit the profile of a chain. The idea that chain stores are bad because they drive out mom-and-pop businesses is unfortunate - and also doesn't reflect the spectrum of retail as it exists in the marketplace. In fact, many of retail and restaurants that people think of as mom-and-pop stores are in fact defined as "chains". A "chain" is a business with multiple locations that share a formula for management, merchandise, format and branding that is applied all stores. This definition of chain holds whether you have 3 sites or 3,000 sites. We all know examples of these regional indepedents. In Pittsburgh, Crazy Mocha, owned by Ken Zeff, with more than two dozen locations in the region is a good example. In New York, Gothic Cabinet Craft (a winner from last year's Best Chain on Main' contest), has 29 locations in the New York tri-state area.

So perhaps we need to use a new term to describe those in-between retailers, business with 2+ locations that are still under independent ownership. On the Chain Retail Spectrum, these "regional independents" or as my colleague Mike Berne calls them "chain-lets", are a valuable sweetspot for local retail attraction efforts. Regional indepedents are ideal for district retail attraction because the businesses are typically locally-owned and retain the character of mom-and-pops, yet also carry the experience and management skillset necessary to maintain multiple successful locations. These business owners are savvy, yet don't have the resources to undertake a formal site selection when they consider expansion. So getting in front of them to make a successful pitch can be critical - because their expansion is often unplanned and done only as opportunities present themselves in great locations. These owners make new location decisions based mostly on 'gut' and a deep insider knowledge of the local marketplace. The fact that regional independents are usually locally owned also means that you can find ways to connect with the owner or ultimate decision maker - often by shopping or eating at the restaurant and asking to speak with the owner. Connecting with the right representative from a national chain, on the other hand, can be an inside game. It can be challenging to find the right person to talk to - and sometimes they want you to go through their leasing agent or broker rather than connect directly. Attracting regional independents to your district is not only easier, but it helps your district retain the local character that differentiates itself from other districts as well. So the next time someone says "chain" and "retail attraction" in the same sentence, don't discount the opportunity!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Going "Store by Store" to Help Local Business Owners Improve their Displays

Finding ways to help local business owners improve their window displays is a perenial issue. The small convenience stores typically found in urban areas are notorious for their cluttered displays, boxes and merchandise in the window blocking views into the store (which has the added "benefit" of turning store into a target for thieves), and posters and stickers haphazardly placed over all the windows. Many of us are very familiar with this challenge. But a creative partnership between a local Visual Arts school and a local development corporation in Staten Island hopes to change all that. As a consultant to the Coro Neighborhood Leadership Program, the first commercial district leadership training program of it's kind in the nation, I had the benefit of hearing Michelle Sledge, Economic Development Coordinator for the Northfield Community Local Development Corporation share the impact of her "Community Change Project" with her NL colleagues as part of our final program day.

The results of her efforts, a program dubbed ¡Revive!, brings together graduate students from the Manhattan School of Visual Arts (SVA) to provide volunteer service that helped make the display windows of Monte Alban, a Mexican market, more appealing. According to Michele, the owner couldn't be more pleased with the outcome and believes it is helping business. Her story is one of many that I heard yesterday that continue to inspire me - and I hope they inspire you too! I'll be sure to share a few others with you in the coming weeks.

Here is a great video documenting the day....

Monday, October 3, 2011

Landlord acknowledges that leasing decision can transform a neighborhood, but let's space lie fallow

An older image of Tony Malkin's building,
once occupied by Conway
Tony Malkin is the owner of a long vacant retail space along the Broadway corridor near Macy's in New York City. He's not wanting for interested retail tenants, yet the retail space, located across the street from the beautifully renovated Herald Square, sits hulking and vacant.

Malkin acknowledges the impact of his leasing decisions on the neighboring district, saying in a Wall Street Journal article that selecting the right retail tenant doesn't just change a building, it can also transform a neighborhood. Yet despite interest from tenants over the past few years, ranging from Nordstrom Rack to Best Buy to Nike, he hasn't even begun formally marketing the space. Landlords like this are frustrating, on one hand they acknowledge that their leasing decisions play a significant role in neighborhood transformation, yet they conveniently ignore the negative impact that a vacant space can have on the district. Malkin goes on to say "With the right tenant," Mr. Malkin says, "I see no reason for us not to be a logical extension off of 34th Street and Macy's." Yet because his cash flow needs are likely met by the office space above the ground floor, he's in no rush to lease his space. Not many owners are in a position to forgo millions of dollars in yearly cash flow, but clearly Malkin thinks the right tenant is worth the wait. What do you think?