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.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Holiday Shopping, Small Business Saturday, etc.

Cover, Golden Book Publishing, 1958.

Black Friday, the biggest day for retail sales.  I saw something on the news today that I don't believe.  They said that $682 billion in sales are made on Black Friday, today, the day after Thanksgiving, and the traditional start of the holiday shopping season.

That is $2,000 for every person in the U.S.

Small Business Saturday is a promotion created by the American Independent Business Alliance and now spearheaded by American Express ("Small Business Saturday gives local retailers chance to take on Amazon" and "Downtown merchants group pushing people to shop 'small'" Baltimore Business Journal).

-- Small Business Saturday website

The idea is that independent businesses can't compete  "head-to-head" against traditional chain retailers in terms of offering the best prices on mass market goods, especially on Black Friday, but they can differentiate their businesses in terms of artisan goods, customer service, and experiences.

Bene hat shop, 6200 block of 3rd Street NWMany stores run promotions throughout the day. 

In DC, as part of SBS, at 4:30 pm, Mayor Bowser will be visiting Bene' Millinery & Bridal Supplies at 6217 3rd Street NW in the Manor Park neighborhood of DC (it's a throwback retail block, one block, embedded within the neighborhood).

Bene' adjoins two other boutiques, Lovely Lady, which sells new clothes, and Kasia's Collection, a consignment type store.

All three of the stores do great windows but their hard work often goes unrewarded because few people walk by and look, and cars go too fast to be able to see the artistry.

Indies First 2017Indie Bound, an alliance of independent bookstores, holds its annual promotional event, Indies First, co-incident with Small Business Saturday, the first Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Artisan retail on the rise.  Traditional retail has been on the decline for some time.  Every week there are new reports on store closings, retail firm bankruptcies, and sales declines.  While some of this has to do with the rise of online retail, another perhaps more significant element concerns how people are using their time, specifically time using digital devices ("It's Not Just Retail That's Changing. It's Us," Bloomberg).

Separately, Bloomberg reports a rise in sale for independent stores and continued difficulty on the part of traditional shopping malls ("Mom-and-Pop Shops Are Threatening the Mall This Holiday Season").  From the article:
Spending growth at mom-and-pop businesses has outpaced that of the big chains in the past two years, according to Sarah Quinlan, senior vice president at credit-card giant Mastercard Inc., which tracks purchasing patterns. When they’re not shopping online, Americans are seeking more personal connections and advice -- something they can find lacking at national retailers.

“The consumer is shopping small,” she said.

Big chain stores still account for the majority of shoppers’ purchases, according to Mastercard. But many of the most affluent consumers are now clustered in walkable neighborhoods, letting them skip the mall in favor of neighborhood hardware stores, bookshops and grocers. And they’re willing to pay the higher prices, Quinlan said.
Relatedly, there are reports of the creation of more independent bookstores, including the opening of a new bookstore, Solid State Supply, on H Street NE last weekend.

Last week, I went to the opening of the new location of Willow, an apparel and gift store, in the Navy Yard district of the Capitol Riverfront.  Willow's first store is on Upshur Street NW in the Petworth neighborhood, and it's an exception that "proves the rule" about the difficulty of success for one-off apparel retail in neighborhood shopping districts. 

The proprietors aren't going to become wealthy, or a national chain, but they have figured out how to fill a niche in providing affordable apparel, complemented by gifts, cards, housewares, and items for children in neighborhoods with certain kinds of demographics.

I had been skeptical that such a store could work in the Navy Yard, which tends to have fewer in-neighborhood residents as regular customers, but the store, by reaching out further into a retail trade area that encompasses Capitol Hill, can be successful.

Another fascinating store in the Navy Yard district is Steadfast Supply, an independent which specializes in selling items created by locally-based artists and craftspeople,  It's an interesting contrast to Willow, because of the price points.  By featuring items produced "by hand," items definitely cost more money at Steadfast Supply, which might make it more difficult for them to build a base of repeat customers.

Storefront window, Willow retail store
The Willow apparel and gift store on Upshur Street NW, Petworth, Washington, DC.

Willow, Steadfast Supply, Solid State Books and others (e.g., Upshur Street Books, the Big Bad Woof pet supply store in Takoma, etc.) are examples of the new small scale retail resurgence, which admittedly is a localized phenomenon. 

The development of this kind of retail can only happen in those areas with the right population and demographics.  But stores like Willow prove that there are more places that can support independent retail than was previously thought.

A couple of initiatives in DC.  From Mayor Muriel Bowser's weekly e-letter:
When Washingtonians share their talents and creativity with our city, we want to do all we can to support them. Last month, we celebrated the opening of Shop Made in DC, a new brick and mortar store and café stocked exclusively with DC brands and concepts. Tomorrow, I will celebrate Small Business Saturday on Minnesota Avenue, DC's newest Main Streets designee. And next week, the Council and I will host a variety of District-based entrepreneurs at the Wilson Building for a pop-up Made in DC: Holiday Bazaar.
Handwringing about the future of retail in New York CityCrain's New York Business reports ("Local pols shop for solutions to retail's crisis") on legislation proposed by various City Councilmembers to provide support to independent retailers and restaurants, which have been caught between chain businesses and ever escalating rents.

Rents have been escalating in part over non-sales related objectives, or by property values being set in a fashion that is disconnected from the revenue potential of the space.

Proposals include tax cuts for retailers and rent control.  One program provides some discounted rent in a new development for four stores.

I still believe the best option is for New York City to create a commercial retail space community development corporation comparable to the SEMAEST group in Paris.  The Vital Quartier program has by this time supported 400 independent businesses and controls more than 500,000 s.f. of retail space.

From the Guardian article "Paris's new planning strategy: bookshops in, textile wholesalers out":
Devoted to "economic development and commercial diversity" in the eastern districts of the city, Vital'Quartier works in 11 parts of the city deemed stagnant or dominated by a single commercial activity.

In those areas, the Semaest targets premises, buys them, renovates them and then advertises for tenants who will be able to pay rent at affordable rates as long as their plans for the space concur with the authorities' vision. De Nuñez, who believed there was an "urgent" need for a Spanish-language bookshop, pays around €1,700 per month for his 60 sq metres in one of the priciest parts of the city.

"Normally you would have to pay a big sum of money up front, maybe €50,000 or €60,000," he said. 
The holiday window at 1z2z3z, a store featuring items for young children.

VCU Brandcenter students decorate store windows at Richmond's Westhampton shopping district.  VCU Brandcenter is the advertising program, and this year, students working on Project Holiday decorated the storefront windows of 28 stores on Libbie, Grove and Patterson Avenues ("VCU Brandcenter students create holiday window magic at shops," Richmond Times-Dispatch). From the article:
Their efforts are part of Project Holiday, a friendly competition for the students to come up with the most wonder-inspiring window display with a budget of just $100 per window and lots of creativity. The public will get the chance to vote on the windows they think are the most creative.

The project is a collaboration between the Westhampton Merchants Association and graduate students in the Experience Design track at the VCU Brandcenter. The participating businesses provided the $100 budget per window.
That's a great way for students to get practical experience in retail merchandising and builds on the idea of artisanal retail experiences.

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