Monday, January 29, 2018

Good apps are hard to find

Capital Riverfront BID, Washington DC
Are you considering developing an app for your downtown to promote local businesses and events? If so, it might be a good idea to take a moment to think through the pros and cons. Today we talked with Jim Blakeslee of Geocentric, a web software and interactive services firm in Bethesda, MD that works with over 30 downtown districts.  We discussed website development versus app development for downtown business directories and events marketing – his firm does both with their Citylight product, a web-based and data-driven system that tracks and maps all kinds of data within downtown boundaries. Below are some highlights from our conversation that might make the app decision easier to make.

Why you might want to pause before developing a native app
Jim cautions BIDs to think twice before developing an app for the following reasons…

Cherry Creek North BID, Denver CO.
  • Apps can be duplicative of a good website. Geocentric already finds over 50% of the web traffic to downtown district websites is coming through mobile devices. Therefore, your downtown website already needs to be optimized for a phone anyway. There is limited value to creating an app that just duplicates what is already visible in browser without adding additional value.
  • Many customers start their journey of information-gathering on the web. Geocentric notes that up to 75% of web traffic to district websites comes directly from Google search. Unlike websites that live on the Internet, apps are a closed system, making it more difficult for people to find the information tucked within an app. In addition, apps need to be downloaded by users before being of use to anyone – this is yet another hurdle for customers to get simple information such as what’s happening downtown this evening.  Geocentric has found that more than half of all pageviews on their clients’ downtown websites go directly to business directory and events calendar pages.
  • Apps are a lot of trouble and more expensive to maintain. Native apps can be expensive. Jim quoted estimates in the range of $20-40k for a native app, compared to $10-20k for a good website. Keep in mind these estimates reflect an average range, there are apps that can cost up to $100k, and websites that can cost as little as $5k. Either way, the additional cost and time associated with developing and updating/ maintaining an app is significant. Remember, the Google Play and Apple App Stores often require apps to go through an approvals process before being made available in stores.

If you do decide to go with an app. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Midtown Alliance, Atlanta GA
  • Make sure you have a good website first. A good app starts with a good website, one that feeds information into the app and prevents the need for double entry of importation information.
  • Integrate supportive tech infrastructure downtown. Take a tip from the shopping center industry and offer free public Wifi downtown. Once the customer has signed in or connected to free Wifi, download prompts for your downtown app on the Wifi landing page can easily be created.
  • Make sure the app offers something above and beyond what your website does. Apps do have the capability to do more than simply duplicate the information found on a good website, so if you are going to use it make sure you enhance its functionality by allowing for push marketing and offers/deals. This is what will help make the app useful and more appealing to download.
  • Marketing is key. An app that is not promoted properly is like a tree that falls in a forest. Does it make a sound? Not if no one hears it. Make sure every business in town is actively marketing the app – one of our clients has given window clings to every business to promote the app and raises awareness of its existence.
  • Measure success. According to Jim, positive growth trends in app usage and downloads is a good indicator that your downtown app is doing well. Of course, like websites, it all depends on the level of competition for news and information in your locality.  

Monday, January 22, 2018

Retail Value in Walkability

Nur is an Associate at Larisa Ortiz Associates
Franklin Street/ NY -14 (Watkins Glen, NY). Photo: LOA

On a recent site visit to various towns in upstate New York, we experienced main commercial streets that, like many others around the country, also function as state highways. In one downtown we visited located directly on the NY-14 highway, or Franklin Street, sees an average of 11,000-13,000 vehicles passing thru daily. Although the moderate traffic count might appear to be a positive trait for retailers by increasing its visibility to potential driver customers, local business owners we spoke with expressed a very different opinion.

According to local merchants, without mid-block crossings and flashing pedestrian crossing lights, the street can be very hazardous to cross (once customers get out of their cars of course). Worse still, we found out from an anchor merchant that the state thoroughfare was also used as a shortcut for large vehicles and delivery trucks getting from downstate to upstate cities like Rochester.

Watkins Glen State Park visitors walking on NY-14. Photo: LOA
Unfortunately for downtown retailers, this unfriendly and uncomfortable pedestrian environment reduces customer dwell time and the chances of repeat visitors. Aside from residents living in upper story apartments on Main Street or in neighborhoods immediately adjacent to Main Street (i.e. captive customer base), it is less likely that a visitor who has experienced the hostile environment of walking up and down your commercial street will return for another visit. This is only compounded by the fact that the retail offerings are essentially halved when customers are unable to cross the street to get to other stores easily.

A poor pedestrian environment negatively impacts cross-shopping opportunities. A shopper walking on the eastern side of the street will find it difficult to cross west given the hostile street, even if he or she can see an interesting sign or merchandise in the display across the way. Without mandatory stop points and strong law enforcement, large vehicles passing thru frequently during the day are unlikely to make time for pedestrians crossing. In fact, on our site visit in Watkins Glen, we observed first-hand several pedestrians waiting longer than five minutes to cross near Franklin Street because vehicles turning were not yielding to pedestrians. The same goes for Main Street in Mount Morris, NY.

Although commercial districts and Main Streets located on state thoroughfares rely quite heavily on vehicle traffic to convert into paying customers, these shoppers who eventually get out of their vehicles to peruse storefronts become pedestrians themselves. Therefore, creating a friendly and comfortable walkable environment on Main Street is paramount to increasing dwell times of customers and store sales downtown.

The retail value of creating a more walkable downtown

Source: Bent & Shiga 2008
A survey conducted in San Francisco, an incredibly walkable city, found that those who walked to downtown San Francisco were spending more in a month than those driving downtown. Sure, walkers spent less per visit compared to those arriving by private vehicle (I mean, think about how much weight you can reasonably carry on your own versus in a car!). However, when accounting for the number of times per month they visited downtown, walkers came out to be the bigger spenders overall in a month. For retailers, this means making your downtown walkable and comfortable for more pedestrians will likely improve foot traffic and sales. In fact, a Brookings Institute study and a State of Place study conducted in metropolitan Washington and Houston respectively further support this, having found that each increase in level of ‘walkability’ translates to an 80% increase in retail sales.

How to create a pedestrian and bike-friendly environment downtown

NY-408 in Nunda, NY. Photo: LOA
Of course, transforming state or federal highways that your commercial districts may be located on is no easy feat. Often, state and federal objectives of moving vehicular traffic quickly and efficiently are at odds with the community vision for a walkable and vibrant downtown environment. In order to create the desired environment, close coordination with state and federal department of transportation representatives will be critical from start to finish.  Starting with smaller streetscape improvements (i.e. benches, sidewalk lights, and re-painting crosswalks) will be key to exploring bigger options such as building road medians at key intersections, bulb outs, and installing new crosswalk lights (perhaps, with leading pedestrian intervals).

Finally, be aware that one of the greatest battles to be fought with state or federal DOTs will be adjusting posted speed limits. In many downtowns and main streets, the 25mph speed limit has become a common traffic calming action to take to increase comfort levels for pedestrian shoppers. Lowering posted speed limits may prove to be a worthy battle to fight as a 2015 survey of shoppers by Schneider found that posted speed limits had a significantly negative association to walking within a shopping district. The lower the posted speed limit, the more survey respondents walked within the shopping districts, leading to longer dwell times.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

New Retail in 2018 - Changing Fashions and Impacts on Tenant Mix

Dan McCombie is a research associate at Larisa Ortiz Associates

I’ve been listening to the Loose Threads podcast lately and absolutely loving it. If you haven’t had a chance yet, I strongly recommend it. Though the topics skew towards apparel and fashion, the broader underpinnings of the conversations apply more generally to the current retail moment, exploring experiential retail, the growth of ecommerce, and the various ways stores are fragmenting and reconstituting themselves to meet changes in consumer tastes and preferences. The first episode I listened to was Episode 50, in which the host of the show, Richie Siegel, sits down with his former business partner, Charlie Giannetti, and they reflect upon lessons learned founding and running a NY-based menswear line, Gioventu.

What struck me most about their conversation was when Charlie explained how the genesis of the company in many ways had its foundations in the Garment Center.[1] While as a student at NYU, he used Photoshop to create a graphic design for a t-shirt. Without actually making a physical garment, he uploaded a mockup to Tumblr where it promptly went viral. Given its reception, he knew he was on to something:
“And so from that point I was in New York, skating around the garment district, trying to figure out how to actually produce a piece of clothing, and that was where it all started. I ended up making them, and made a Squarespace site, did a photoshoot on a disposable film camera, and we sold 100 pieces in like 3 hours, at $150 apiece for this T-shirt that no one had ever seen in real life.[2]                                                                                                                                  
This story strikes me because we’re always thinking about how to improve tenant mix in commercial districts. And inherent to that is the question of what type of tenants are going to be the most successful. Especially in the current retail environment, success parallels an ability to adapt. Whether that’s by leveraging new tech and social media, creating frequent iterations of products, or staying abreast of consumer trends. My belief is that to really flourish in these respects, it certainly helps to have access to an ecosystem of supporting actors and institutions, much like the Garment Center is for burgeoning apparel companies. Consider another example, presented by Outlier, a company described as the “darling of nerdy, direct-to-consumer technical menswear.”[3] In an interview with tech commentator and columnist Om Malik, co-founder Abe Burmeister tells a similar origin story:

“I rolled into the Garment District in New York, which is a like an ancient technology center — you know, the Silicon Valley of the 1900s or really late 1800s, when the sewing machine was invented. Ninety percent of the clothes in America used to come out of the Garment District, and so very few of them do now. It’s much smaller than it used to be, but there’s still a lot of life there….I started asking questions and eventually I developed a pair of pants that I thought were just better [than what else was available]. And because I knew a lot more about making websites than about making clothes, I thought, what happens if I put these things online? Will people buy ‘em? You know, like maybe that’ll work, and somehow it did. People started buying ‘em.”[4]
The reason I think these stories are important to our practice is because by understanding how companies are forming, how they leverage different skills (especially in regards to e-commerce and IOT), and how they perceive their role within the larger commercial environment, we can develop a better understanding of how to position commercial districts to attract them. I understand that these examples are limited to a very specialized and niche area of the retail industry and within a very specific urban context. But again, the larger question still stands: In what ways can access to an ecosystem of supporting actors and institutions, whether that be a concentration of complementary industries, college campuses, business incubators, civic organizations, what have you—create a pipeline that yields real growth in successful brick and mortars? If the Garment Center is a resource for companies like Outlier (a direct to consumer brand), how can it be leveraged so that it turns into more active storefronts in Midtown? I think there are a lot of different answers to this question, and I hope to see it continue to be discussed more as we travel deeper into 2018.

The Garment Center -1955 [5]
Richie Siegel, cofounder of Gioventu [6]

Outlier's "Shelter from the Storm" field jacket - 2017 [7] 

[1] For those unfamiliar, the Garment Center is located in Midtown Manhattan and is the fashion epicenter of both the New York and greater United States, home to the highest concentration of fashion-related retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers, and suppliers.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Mall-to-Mixed Use Tracker

Nur Asri is an Associate at Larisa Ortiz Associates.

In recent months, we've seen a slew of headlines announcing the redevelopment of dying malls as walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods. These complex undertakings (read our post on the challenges associated with redeveloping malls) are popping up across the country as more commercial developers seek to diversify their portfolios in this turbulent retail climate. Join us as we round up some of the latest mall-to-mixed use projects:

Source: LOA (2018)

There are a number of uses other than 'Retail/ Restaurants/ Entertainment' that have been introduced to dying shopping mall sites. This includes housing, office space and hotels. In fact a majority (35%) of the projects we tracked now feature the full suite of uses - retail, housing, office and hotels. Retail and housing is the second most popular use combination on these former shopping mall sites, comprising 26% of total projects tracked.

When we look at the geographic distribution of these projects, the state of California comes up as a clear leader in these mall transformations. 29% percent of the projects we tracked are located up and down the coast from San Diego to the Bay Area. The State of Virginia also fares well with a 20% share of tracked projects located between Tyson's Corner and Richmond, however, it is the Mid-Atlantic region as whole that leads this redevelopment trend with 40% of projects located in VA, PA, MD, NJ and NY.

Source: LOA (2018)

The traditional American mall will no doubt continue to reinvent itself as consumer preferences and lifestyles change so keep your eyes peeled for similar projects in your own city! Comment below if your town is seeing a new mall-to-mixed use conversion. Here's a full list of mall-to-mixed use projects we tracked:

Source: LOA (2018)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Introducing the "Strengthening Commercial Districts" Series - A Guide to Downtown Wayfinding

LOA presents “Strengthening Commercial Districts” a new series of publications that aims to highlight key actions and interventions for successful commercial revitalization. LOA works closely with municipalities and local community organizations to diagnose existing conditions and develop comprehensive and creative strategies to improve the downtown business environment.

In this first part, we take a closer look at wayfinding and signage as a key public realm redevelopment strategy to improve downtown visibility and accessibility. The guide provides a brief overview of what wayfinding systems are, their importance to commercial districts, and how downtown managers may begin to implement this strategy in their local communities. The guide also offers visuals of best practices for various types of signage so that readers are able to easily understand and implement effective wayfinding systems in their own communities.

It is important to note, however, that although physical signs are crucial for visitors to orient and navigate themselves once they have arrived, the experience of downtown really begins online. Most customers are going online to research products, services, and travel destinations before doing anything or going anywhere. In our guide, find out how you can adapt your downtown wayfinding system to ensure it is comprehensive and remains relevant in this digital age.

To find out more, download the full guide here.  

Friday, January 5, 2018

Center for an Urban Future releases the "10th Annual State of the Chains" report

I am always eager to read the 10th Annual State of the Chains report issued by the Center for an Urban Future (CUF). While focused on New York City, the comprehensive nature of the data and analysis have implications for other cities as well. The fact that one-fifth of all national retailers closed stores in the past year is simply astounding and confirms what we have also noted in our own research nationwide. Additionally, food remains a driver of retail growth, but the findings in the report offer some more specificity - growth has occurred in bakeries, mobile phone chains, frozen yogurt, and fast-food/fast-casual chains. On the other hand, electronics, office supplies and shoe stores, items that are quite easy to compare and purchase on-line have seen the most shrinkage. As we move forward there are more questions to answer - such as how much more food can we support before the market is fully saturated? And after that, what else takes its place? These are all questions we will be thinking about in the coming year.

Back to the report....CUF Executive Director Jonathan Bowles' summary is included below an offers a good synopsis of the report, which can be found here.

From Jonathan Bowles....

Our report, published on Thursday, finds that the number of national retail locations in the city increased for the ninth consecutive year. However, the report shows that a growing number of national chains appear to be facing new challenges from online competition. Although the city’s economy overall has been expanding, a fifth of all national retailers on our list closed stores in the past year, and only one-in-seven retailers increased their footprint—the smallest share since we began keeping track a decade ago.

Our report finds that food establishments drove much of the growth in chain stores over the past year, while retailers that compete most directly with online outlets—such as shoe and electronics stores—experienced significant contractions.

This year’s report includes a special analysis of how the chain store landscape has changed over the past decade. Among the key 10-year trends:
  • There are now 952 chain coffee shops in New York, 65 percent more than a decade ago, led by Dunkin’ Donuts.
  • Fast-casual dining chain restaurants in the five boroughs increased 105 percent over the past decade, from 141 to 289 stores.
  • The number of fast-food restaurant chains grew 14 percent, from 1,107 to 1,261 stores.
  • Food-related chains are responsible for 41 percent of the growth in national retailer locations in New York over the past ten years, the most of any category.
  • There are fewer than half as many electronics shops in New York today as there were in 2008: down to 53 locations in the five boroughs, compared to 144 stores ten years ago.
  • During the same period, the number of shoe retail chains decreased 16 percent, from 239 locations to 207.
  • The number of chain bakeries has more than tripled over the past decade, from 55 to 161. This is in addition to the growth in fast-casual chains.
  • Chains that specialize in frozen yogurt, such as Red Mango and 16 Handles, have expanded by 283 percent—the largest growth rate of any retailer category. In 2008, there were 12 chain yogurt stores, and today there are 46.
  • In contrast, ice cream chain stores have been steadily declining for a decade. The number of ice cream shops decreased from 376 in 2008 to 311 in 2017, a 17 percent drop.
  • Mobile phone service chains added 621 locations in the past decade, going from 233 locations in 2008 to 854 in 2017.
  • Office supply chains have lost 25 percent of their locations, falling from 63 stores to 47.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Here's what to expect in 2018 and beyond! Our recap of the top nine retail trends poised to change downtown business districts for good

If 2018 is anything like 2017, expect major changes when it comes to downtown retail. While no one has a crystal ball, our work in nearly two dozen communities nationwide has led us to a few trends that we expect to see alot more of in 2018...

#1. Embrace social media, or else
The number one story, of course, is the rapid change in how the American consumer is purchasing and consuming information that leads to purchases. According to the consulting firm Accenture, 78% of people “webroom,” or research online before heading to a store to make a purchase. This online research often includes perusing customer review sites such as Yelp or Tripadvisor and Instagram posts by various brands, retailers and ‘influencers’.

However the purchasing journeys in some retail categories are more highly influenced by digital marketing than others. Social media channels such as Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest continue to introduce new call-to-action features like “Shop Now” buttons for products and “Sign Up” buttons for services. Social media will not only become an important marketing tool but also sales platform for retailers.

While retailers need to build partnerships and creative collaborations with social media ‘influencers’ to achieve greater brand authenticity and trust among consumers, commercial district managers on the other hand need to implement district-wide social media strategies on behalf of the downtown as a whole. Social media accounts owned and managed by BIDs, merchants associations, or chambers of commerce should also aim to highlight various activities taking place downtown in order to further drive visitation to the area.

One of the more recent social media tools that is being adopted by downtowns across the country is a Snapchat geofilter. Snapchat geofilters are special graphic overlays (or digital stickers) for photos taken on the Snapchat app. Downtown Snapchat filters typically feature a downtown logo or graphics of downtown landmarks, and only appear on the Snapchat app when a visitor opens it whilst they are downtown. Snapchat charges $5 per 20,000 square feet of ‘Geofence’ (i.e. geographic area determined as the downtown). Times Square Alliance in New York City, for example, has its own Snapchat filter that has been widely used by local residents and workers, as well as visitors.

#2. It's all about the "experience"
Consumers are starting to spend less on products and more on experiences and service-based retail. A Holiday Shopping Habits 2016 Survey by the Rubicon Project found that experience-related purchases were the top spending category for consumers in the 2016 holiday season.

Service-based or experiential retail involves in-person interactions and thus are best transacted at physical locations versus online. Many traditional retailers in various categories are quickly adapting their existing store formats to offer personalized services and hands-on, memorable activities and we expect to see some more of this across retail categories. 

Downtown organizations can support retailers’ efforts by supporting experiential activities in downtown public space, while also advocating for and marketing in-store events and activities through newsletters and social media. Downtown Morganton, NC, for example, has a robust and widely-subscribed weekly newsletter “D4U” that is populated with activities organized by individual stores downtown.

#3. Next stop for micro-manufacturing? Downtown. 
As cities continue to face rising retail vacancy rates, more ground floor spaces are left underutilized in core downtown areas. Pop-up retail concepts may be a temporary solution but micro manufacturing might just be the longer-term downtown use that can replace these empty storefronts.

Micro-manufacturing, or small-scale manufacturing, is characterized by artisan goods produced in small quantities using small hand tools or light machinery so cities need not worry so much about nuisance such as noise and noxious by-products. Since many of these micro manufacturers don’t require large floor plates to carry out production, they are extremely viable tenants for the many small- to mid-sized vacant storefronts that plague our main streets, provided zoning is made flexible enough to support these uses without having to apply for variances.

In addition to filling vacant ground floor retail spaces, micro manufacturing can increase supply of locally-made goods and services (thereby increasing a city’s ‘Shop Local’ brand), increase sales tax revenues, and provide inclusive and well-paid employment for downtown residents. Therefore, cities and downtown district managers need to show strong support for micro manufacturers by matching them with available ground floor space, providing legal and financial support to acquire such spaces (including maneuvering zoning variances etc.), and collectively marketing the locally-made products.

The Made in Baltimore Campaign was funded by a grant by the US Economic Development Administration and has led to the creation of a seal that is given to all members to use on products, packaging and promotional materials, and also led to the creation of events celebrating the culture of manufacturing in Baltimore, MD.

#4. Retailers will need to embrace omni-channel selling
Omni-channel selling is the marriage of the brick-and-mortar storefront with digital channels that include mobile apps, online marketplaces, and a bevy of other tech-assisted resources.

The story of omni-channel retail parallels the meteoric rise of e-commerce that we’ve seen over the last decade.  In that sense, the concept itself is not new. But the degree of sophistication and the improved efficiency in creating that seamless shopping experience have continued to evolve such that it remains at the forefront of any current conversation regarding best practices. The term can feel rather ubiquitous and carry broad application. Indeed, for brick-and-mortars early on, omni-channel selling was as simple as creating a consumer-facing website or electing to also sell your wares via an online marketplace like Ebay or Etsy. However, today we see omni-channel refer to the monitoring of customer internet searches and tracking of purchasing habits to assist in curating a more targeted physical inventory, determining optimal site selection for a store, or spurring the exploration of new innovative store formats that carry no inventory at all, instead functioning solely as high-touch showrooms where shoppers purchase online for later pickup.  
This is important to understand because it demonstrates that this notion of the “retail apocalypse” is a misnomer, in the sense that national retail sales have continued to grow year over year. But e-commerce sales continue to capture a stronger share, up to 9.1% for Q3 of 2017 according to the US Census.[1] More purchases are being made in different channels from where the customer experience started—meaning that whereas the customer may have visited a brick-and-mortar first, they may elect to make the final purchase online later (or vice versa). Omni-channel represents what the customer most often wants, and (increasingly) what yields the best overall financial results.[2] Therein lies the lesson for district managers, as they field questions from concerned retail tenants pointing to the threat of Amazon to their bottom line. As Macy’s and Toys-R-Us shutter stores, Warby Parker and Bonobos are opening more up precisely because they’ve learned the sum of the physical and digital is greater than the parts.    

#5. Are we seeing the beginning or the end of the food hall? 
Food halls are spaces that attempt to marry the traditional food court with the public market. They are heavily-curated culinary spaces that are typically located in urban, mixed-use areas and can be opportunities to offer tenants trying to break into the culinary scene an affordable alternative with smaller, less expensive spaces and flexible leases.

In 2015 there were 70 food halls in the US across 1.9 million sf compared to to over 130 food halls last year across 3.1 million sf. Needless to say, the food hall scene has grown rapidly and New York City alone accounts for more than 25.4% of the total number of US food hall projects. The factors that led to this rise in food halls were the rise in restaurant rents of major cities and the emergence of the ‘foodie’ culture. As long as both factors persist, food halls might continue to proliferate across the country and downtown organizations will need to work strategically with property owners to locate destinations in core retail areas in order to draw even more visitors to the area. Depending on local demand and interest in food entrepreneurship, food halls downtown may vary in size from 10,000 sf – 50,000 sf. Downtown food halls can also be catalytic projects that transform and revitalize historic buildings that have fallen into disrepair. The Pizitz Food Hall in Birmingham, Alabama is the most recent example of this. 
On the other hand, New York City and other major metropolitan areas that have already seen their fair share of food halls, might stand to hit saturation point in 2018. The ‘foodie’ looking for authenticity and unique food offerings will start to notice that Gotham West Market, UrbanSpace Vanderbilt, and Dekalb Market Food Hall all have the same sleek, industrial interior and concrete floors, with more or less the same mix of food offerings – burgers, tacos, Asian noodles, donuts and ice cream. So much for authentic culinary experiences!

#6. Pop-up brokers will make it easier to fill vacant retail spaces
Pop-up brokers are firms that specialize in temporarily filling vacant retail spaces, functioning as the liaison between prospective tenants and landlords, often offering a menu of additional services to aid in the transaction and roll-out. These services can include assistance with brand activation and marketing for the tenant, provision of liability insurance for the landlord, and on-site security during special events. These agreements are typically accomplished through short-term licensing deals which make it easier for the landlord and tenant to do business while keeping terms flexible enough they won’t prevent the landlord from bringing in a long-term tenant should the opportunity present itself.[3]   

Pop-up tenants themselves come in many different forms. They might be an e-commerce retailer looking to transition into a brick-and-mortar concept in order to explore omni-channel strategies, the scrappy young start-up looking to test their product in the market, or even a well-established company looking for a short term venue for an experiential marketing campaign.

The overall allure of pop-up brokers has been their role as a stop-gap measure to address softening in the market for retail real estate. Whether spaces remain vacant due to online competition or high rents, pop-up brokers effectively capitalize the asset in the interim. For commercial district stewards, this helps avoid issues with “missing teeth” that disrupt the continuity of active street level building frontages—something critical for ensuring that customers shop longer, and cross-shop between stores. For that reason, these brokers may be valuable allies, at least within larger urban markets where they appear to predominate presently. But it’s not unreasonable to theorize that these brokers may have a larger role to play in the future as we continue to see an emphasis on more experiential retail concepts, shrinking retail floor plates, growth in co-retailing, and the overall churn of the market. 

#7. Small is beautiful. Shrinking retail footprints mean more opportunities for downtown
Increasingly retailers like Target and Walmart have been experimenting with smaller building footprints and a narrower selection of products on their shelves. This may not be a bad thing. Many have pointed out that the American market is overbuilt with more than 25 square feet of retail space compared to 2.5 square feet in Europe.[4]

But for other retailers, it’s important to understand the tendency to shrink should be tempered with the additional understanding that brick-and-mortars are necessary to maintain exposure with customers. Steve Dennis, contributing writer at Forbes, is quick to assert that shrinking is not an “automatic gateway to better performance.”[5]  Storefronts are still the place where experiential moments occur. While books, music, and some select apparel may be more conducive to a predominantly on-line sales format, other high-touch categories are going to still need stores to act as showrooms, demo spaces, and advertising opportunities (i.e. billboarding).
The point here is that closing a store is distinctly different from shrinking a store in that the former signals retreat while the latter can serve as a strategy to explore experiential retail, omni-channel selling strategies, and access to growing urban markets. Done correctly, it can convey such advantages as a reduction in the number returns, lower staff turnover, reduced shrinkage, and (of course) lower rents. Pioneers like Target and Nordstrom are testing the waters at present, and it is likely that as they uncover best practices they will prompt emulation from their peers in the years to come.

#8. Expect an aging population to alter downtown investment priorities
As the Baby Boomers age, expect a heightened emphasis on making sure that downtown retailers - and the downtown environment as a whole - meets their needs. This demographic may be slowing down their spending, but they continue to be the most familiar and comfortable with in-store shopping and their sheer size in numbers means that boomer spending will drive retailer decision making for quite some time. Expect downtown managers to be more mindful of the physical environment, advocating for improvements that make downtown more comfortable for an aging demographic. More care will also be taken with the maintenance of sidewalks to keep surfaces even and easy to walk on, as well as larger, more visible signs that are easier to spot and read. This group will continue to spend on leisure-related categories, home improvement and staples, but will start pulling back their spending on apparel, footwear, home furnishing and casual dining.

#9. Goodbye to downtown parking minimums (we hope)
Though by no means a wide scale movement yet, we have been seeing more and more cities embracing changes in their parking requirements, notably the removal of minimum parking requirements. Cities from Buffalo, NY to Hartford, CT to Santa Monica, CA are among the latest cities to bid farewell to parking minimums.  This means that new development is not required to include any parking (though developers in some communities may elect to include parking if they so choose).  The problem with parking requirements is that they are often ill conceived efforts to supply more parking than is necessary – and often undermine the very density and quality pedestrian environment necessary to support viable transit alternatives that make car ownership less appealing. Parking minimums create a self-reinforcing loop, resulting in places where car ownership is required for a comfortable existence. 

When parking minimums have been removed, the impact on downtowns has been shown to be tremendous.  The change in policy often releases a pent up demand for development of housing product that would not have otherwise been built. And where there is housing, there is retail. In Los Angeles, where an adaptive reuse overlay in downtown stripped the parking requirement from older buildings. It unleashed a flood of development that resulted in the adaptive reuse of historic buildings for housing, which in turn has led to growing demand for retail that is being met by businesses new and old.