Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Retail oriented to transit (and walkers) has different requirements than automobile-centric retail

There is an opinion piece by Jeff Paterson, director of corporate solutions and consulting for real estate brokerage Colliers Turley Martin Tucker, in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal, "‘Convenience’ retail in for overhaul," that makes this point. It's pretty basic but worth repeating in its entirety because most people don't get it.

What will “convenience” stores look like in five years? What about 10? Some forward-thinking strategists at SuperAmerica, Holiday Stationstores, Kwik Trip or Oasis Markets had better be rethinking their prototype store model because the convenience retail landscape is going to be changing very dramatically and very quickly.

People coming by car to buy gas? Not likely! Store locations chosen to be convenient to the motoring public? Irrelevant! Highway accessibility? Old hat! In the years ahead, automobile traffic volume exposure, at least in urban areas, will not necessarily be the driving force behind convenience-retail siting decisions. Determining where station stops will be along transit corridors will be “the key to the castle” for convenience retailers.

Surely some innovative planners at the convenience-retail chains must have come to the realization by now that the new transit world will call for a different type of store model.

Picture the following scenario: Mr. or Mrs. suburban Anoka pulls into the parking structure adjacent to the train station along the Northstar Commuter Rail Corridor in Anoka. It is 6:50 a.m. He or she has 10 minutes to complete some errands and buy some essential sundries before boarding the 7 a.m. train headed for downtown Minneapolis. He or she can buy coffee, a breakfast sandwich and a newspaper before boarding the train.

If there is extra time, the same transit rider could drop off dry cleaning to be picked up later, leave the car at the nearby “convenience auto” stop for a wash and an oil change and deposit the toddlers at day care or pre-school.

The transit commute home in the evening presents more possibilities. How about a take-away, prepared food counter where a broasted chicken or take ’n bake pizza could be secured for the evening meal or a “mini-fitness” workout locker room?

Of course, the challenge with these “transit station marketplaces” is attracting customers and patrons during the midday hours when the train volume and passenger traffic will be at their low point. The station markets and retail concepts will have to be designed and formatted in such a way to attract that midday customer who may not be a transit rider. One lesson that has been gleaned from successful transit-oriented development projects in other cities is that the mere introduction of a train and its passengers does not guarantee that a transit-oriented development project will be successful. There has to be some grain of demand/supply imbalance already present in the local market to inspire development. The train can amplify and influence the tenant mix, design and intensity of a transit market that was needed by the local neighborhood under any circumstances.

Real estate developers, retailers and service providers must be thinking creatively about the best way to serve the transit public in the decades ahead. It will be a different landscape where the corner convenience store so accessible to the motoring public and whose primary raison d’etre was the sale of gas will become a dinosaur.

I think that the author discounts how much retailers are wedded to traditional paradigms. Center cities have had this problem for a long time. See these past blog entries for more on the topic:

-- Store siting decisions
-- Why the future of urban retail isn't chains
-- (Why aren't people) Learning from Jane Jacobs
-- (Why aren't people) Learning from Jane Jacobs revisited.

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