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Demographics & Technology Continues To Change Retailing

December 12, 2016 Featured, Metro East Comments Off on Demographics & Technology Continues To Change Retailing

Around Halloween each year I think more and more about retailing. Not because I’m into mass consumerism, but because of the five years I spent working at Toys “R” Us (1983-87). I also briefly worked at Dillard’s for a few months in 1988. Architecture school became too demanding, so I stopped working my last two of five years in college. In architecture school I took an interest in retail design.

A book from my college days
A book from my college days

Growing up in the 1970s, retailing was represented by Sears, Montgomery Ward (their catalogs too!), and Oklahoma stores like C.R. Anthony, TG&Y, Otasco, etc. Looking back on my personal experience, I realize just how much retailing has changed in my almost 50 years. My parents & grandparents saw considerable change in retailing during their lifetimes (1886-2007 range).

Chicago's Butler Bros had many warehouses for distribution, I can see St. Louis' from my home office window. They started the Ben Franklin chain. Click image for more information.
Chicago’s Butler Bros had many warehouses for distribution, I can see St. Louis’ from my home office window. They started the Ben Franklin chain. Click image for more information.

Today we have our phones out when in brick & mortar retail stores. I use a grocery app daily — I’ve added non-grocery stores for other items as well. Recently, in Target, we saw the Elf on a Shelf and decided to finally get it. A quick scan of barcode within the Amazon app showed us the price was the same at both stores, so we bought it at Target. We paid sales tax by buying at Target, but we got 5% off by using our Target RedCard MasterCard. However, we’re currently getting 5% cash back through Amazon using our Discover card. We paid more — the amount of sales taxes — so we could have it immediately. An informed decision.

My experience at Toys “R” Us was very different. I stocked shelves, but also worked as a cashier. Though part-time, I became a head cashier that trained and supervised other cashiers. In those days we had to key in a 6-digit stock keeping unit (SKU) for every item — no scanning a barcode. The register knew the price — assuming the price sticker on the product and computer were both updated. After we had the total sale amount we’d fill out a credit card form  and do an imprint of the card on the form. We had to enter the card number into the register to get an authorization code, which was then written on the form.

The truth is that the credit card imprint is nothing new. That’s how all transactions were handled in the days before the magnetic strip. It seems silly to have to explain this, but believe it or not, there are these imprint machines that are entirely mechanical. The merchant places the card on a steel plate on the imprinter and a credit card form is placed over it (it used to have “carbon paper” for those old enough to remember). The merchant slides an arm over the whole thing, and the pressure from the arm imprints the raised numbers on your card onto the paper form. It contains all the important information, such as card numbers and expiration date. (NerdWallet)

My point is retailing has continuously evolved since the first retail transaction. Once-giant retailers, like Sears, barely survive today. Some mom & pop stores go out of business, while others grow to become Nike, Spankx, Whole Foods, etc. With Millennials outnumbering Baby Boomers and Gen-Z shoppers entering the picture you can expect retail to continue changing.

Amazon is trying to stay ahead of these changes. As Amazon Prime members we’re used to getting things in two days, very fast compared to the old days of pre-internet mail/phone order from catalogs.    But sometimes you can’t wait 2 days. Google Express offers next-day delivery from local stores in St. Louis, with same-day delivery in some markets. Very soon Amazon will open two huge facilities in the Metro area —  from June:

Online retail giant Amazon announced Thursday that it would build two distribution centers in Edwardsville, bringing 1,000 new jobs and adding a big name to a growing distribution and logistics hub in the Metro East.

Known as “fulfillment centers,” the Amazon warehouse and distribution facilities service a growing cadre of online shoppers by storing and shipping goods to consumers who want them fast. One center will handle large items — big screen TVs, sports equipment or kayaks — while another will handle smaller items such as books and electronics.

Amazon has about 50 of the centers, and as online retail competition grows, the company is looking to meet the fast delivery times promised by its premium service, Amazon Prime. (Post-Dispatch)

How fast? Try 2 hours, or 1 hour for an additional fee!

We’ll be in Chicago for four nights in mid-February, so I’ll try Prime Now there. I’ve looked through the app and it’s largely groceries and Amazon’s own electronics. If it’s cold & snowing having them deliver groceries from Eataly would be nice. The walk is less than 10 minutes from the condo where we stay, but making fresh pasta and staying in might be nice. Prime Now also does restaurant delivery.

Amazon isn’t stopping there, they’re testing a brick & mortar store:

The first Amazon Go location is situated in Seattle and is only available to Amazon employees until early 2017. It looks like a typical small grocery store with one thing missing–cashiers. 

Amazon Go has no cash registers and no lines because customers do not have to check out. Instead, they check into the store using an Amazon Go app on their smartphones. Sensors placed around the store detect what customers take off the shelves, and the company automatically charges their established Amazon accounts when they leave. It’s like shoplifting, except you pay for stuff as you walk out of the store. (PBS)

Hard to say today what impact all this will have long term, but it’s safe to assume the retail industry will continue changing and adapting. Those that don’t will fade away.

— Steve Patterson

 

Trump Is Less Than A Half Mile Away Today, Last Week I Took Public Transit 20+ Miles To Hear Bernie Sanders

Before this year, and despite being an active voter for 30+ years, I’d never seen a presidential candidate in person. At noon today Republican frontrunner Donald Trump will be speaking at the Peabody Opera House — less than half a mile away from my downtown loft. I won’t go hear him speak — not worth minimal effort.

A week ago, however, I traveled 20+ miles to hear Sen. Bernie Sanders at SIUE’s Vadalabene Center. As I indicated on February 2nd, I already voted for Bernie Sanders via absentee ballot. Today’s post is mostly about my journey there and back via public transit.

You’re probably thinking it took forever, the answer is no & yes.  Getting there was as fast as driving, coming back took three times as long.

Each weekday morning the Madison County Transit 16X Edwardsville-Glen Carbon Express makes two pickups from St. Louis, it makes nine drop offs. At 7:02am I caught the first 16x at 6th & Washington Ave.  Thirty-six minutes later I was on the SIUE campus.

Driving from my loft would’ve required my husband to use our Enterprise CarShare membership so I could use our car, it would’ve taken 36-41 minutes for me to drive there. With the time it would’ve taken me to walk from parking to the line using my wheelchair on public transit saved me time — and money.

At 7:04am I was on the 16x on WB Washington Ave between Broadway & 6th. There were 5-6 people on the bus -- they boarded at Jefferson & Pine
At 7:04am I was on the 16x on WB Washington Ave between Broadway & 6th. There were 5-6 people on the bus — they boarded at Jefferson & Pine
At 7:20am we made our first stop, at a Park & Ride lot next to the Gateway Center in Collinsville IL
At 7:20am we made our first stop, at a Park & Ride lot next to the Gateway Center in Collinsville IL
At 7:28am we stopped at a park & ride lot in Glen Carbon IL. The next stop was Beck Hall at SIUE
At 7:28am we stopped at a park & ride lot in Glen Carbon IL. The next stop was Beck Hall at SIUE

Upon arrival at the campus I didn’t stop to photograph — I wanted to get to get in lime at the Vadalabene Center. As I was making my way to the back of the line a volunteer stopped me and said I could follow her to the disabled entrance.

At 7:48am I was almost inside, myself and others who are disabled were able to bypass the long line. Had I driven the walk from the parking lot to the door would've been exhausting.
At 7:48am I was almost inside, myself and others who are disabled were able to bypass the long line. Had I driven the walk from the parking lot to the door would’ve been exhausting.
I was inside just before 8am. Mr. Sanders began speaking around 10:30am. I could not have been any closer to the stage!
I was inside just before 8am. Mr. Sanders began speaking around 10:30am. I could not have been any closer to the stage!
I was so close I was the first person to shake his hand after he came off the stage, I took this image just after -- 11:29am
I was so close I was the first person to shake his hand after he came off the stage, I took this image just after — 11:29am
15 minutes later I was leaving the Vadalabene Center, heading for Beck Hall
15 minutes later I was leaving the Vadalabene Center, heading for Beck Hall

I already knew the next express bus to St. Louis wasn’t for another 4 hours — I’d need to take two buses and a train to get home.

A few Madison County Transit buses came by before the next bus I needed,
A few Madison County Transit buses came by before the next bus I needed,

I had two options:

  1. #19 to Collinsville > #18 to Emerson Park > MetroLink to St. Louis
  2. #4 to Granite City > #5 to Emerson Park > MetroLink to St. Louis

Both were within minutes of each other — just shy of two hours total. Based upon when I arrived, the #2 option via Granite City would be next. While waiting I began talking to someone else who attended the event, we talked much of the way until I got off the train downtown. Turns out he’s married to a woman I’ve known for at least a decade, they live in Webster Groves!

It was worth all the trouble to hear & meet Bernie Sanders!  Missouri & Illinois both hold primaries on Tuesday, along with Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina — please vote.

— Steve Patterson

 

Medical Marijuana Dispensary Opens In Former Insurance Building

Earlier this week the first of two Illinois medical marijuana dispensaries opened in the metro East. Finally.

Relief has arrived in the Metro East for patients with cancer and other chronic illnesses. The area’s first medical marijuana dispensary, HCI Alternatives, opened in Collinsville Monday. (KSDK)

Illinois’ experiment in medical marijuana is off to a painfully slow start. Can it survive?

The clock is ticking for the Illinois medical marijuana program. A low number of approved patients could force some marijuana businesses to close just as the program is getting underway.

The issue is that the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has only approved a small amount of illnesses that would meet the requirements for taking medical marijuana. The Medical Cannabis Advisory Board for the program had recommended that 11 conditions and diseases be added to the list. However, in September the IDPH said it wouldn’t expand the list.

The group came back in October with a list of 8 conditions and if approved, would lead to a much larger patient population and would ensure the success of the programs and the viability of the businesses. Several chronic pain conditions, osteoarthritis, autism, irritable bowel syndrome and post-traumatic stress syndrome are on the list the board recommended. The IDPH said it would accept petitions from patients during the month of January 2016. Mind you these petitions aren’t just signing a sheet of paper. (Forbes)

Given the exorbitant fees these businesses paid to Illinois I don’t think they’ll let them go under — the powerful don’t treat the wealthy that way.

HCI Alternatives is located in a former insurance building facing I-70. Click image for map, November 2015 photo
HCI Alternatives is located in a former insurance building facing I-70. Click image for map, November 2015 photo
This area is served by bus from bus service from both St, Clair & Madison Counties, but in November it lacked an ADAD-compliant accessible route from the public sidewalk to building entrance.
This area is served by bus from bus service from both St, Clair & Madison Counties, but in November it lacked an ADAD-compliant accessible route from the public sidewalk to building entrance.

When we stopped by in November 2015 we noticed the numerous security cameras all around the building. Hopefully Illinois will approve more conditions and patients will get their cards. HCI Alternatives also has a location in Springfield IL. Missouri approved CBD oil in 2014 but I don’t think it is available to patients yet.

This week a woman in Georgia testified before legislators in her state about buying marijuana on the black market to create her own CBD oil to help treat her child. This November Missouri voters should have the opportunity to approve medical marijuana.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

 

Most Bus Stops On A St. Clair County Route Not Designed For Pedestrians

Last week I decided to visit downtown O’Fallon IL so I could see & photograph their old city hall — which is for sale. It is just a 24-28 minute drive from my loft in downtown St. Louis but my husband and I share a car, which he uses has for work. Transit was my best option, but it would be 90 minutes each way. The first half via MetroLink light rail, the second via MetroBus.

The MetroLink stations/platforms are all wheelchair accessible, as are all MetroBus vehicles. The weak link is MetroBus stops. With thousands of stops throughout the region, a transit agency can only do so much to improve municipal/county rights-of-way. I assumed I’d be ok once I reached downtown O’Fallon so I didn’t look ahead at the stops along the way.

But on the bus I began to snap pictures as the bus stopped — in some cases as we went past stops. For those unfamiliar with riding a bus, they don’t stop at every bus stop. If you want off you must pull the cord to let the driver know you wan the next stop. A bus also stops for those waiting to board. Light rail, however, stops at every stop because they’re limited and spaced far apart.  Still, the bus stops are needed because throughout the day each and every stop will likely be used at least once.

Below are some of the images I took from the #12 MetroBus heading East from the Fairview Heights IL MetroLink station to the O’Fallon City Hall. The bus was near seated capacity when we departed the station.

One of the first few stops, just grass -- no sidewalk
One of the first few stops, just grass — no sidewalk
Entering a retail area, the stop isn't accessible at all
Entering a retail area, the stop isn’t accessible at all
Curbs & mulch at Vatterott College
Curbs & mulch at Vatterott College
This was one of the busier stops, numerous people got off the bus here.
This was one of the busier stops, numerous people got off the bus here.
St, Clair Square. No smoking at bus shelter. No access to out parels
St, Clair Square. No smoking at bus shelter. No access to out parcels
One of the worst stops was for Green Mount Crossing shopping center -- just a little shoulder and worn grass before quickly going downhill into a drainage ditch . Click image to see a list of business
One of the worst stops was for Green Mount Crossing shopping center — just a little shoulder and worn grass before quickly going downhill into a drainage ditch . Click image to see a list of business
Looking back toward the main automobile entrance.
Looking back toward the main automobile entrance.
Just to the North we see construction of a new building next to one bus stop.
Just to the North we see construction of a new building next to one bus stop.
Just around the corner the new St Elizabeth Hospital is under construction. Will they provide an ADA-compliant bus stop and route to front door? How about crossing the street to go the other direction?
Just around the corner the new St Elizabeth Hospital is under construction. Will they provide an ADA-compliant bus stop and route to front door? How about crossing the street to go the other direction?
The bus driver tried to let off at the bus stop nearest the city hall, but the ramp stopped short of the sidewalk and the height difference would've gotten me stuck. He had to retract the ramp , pull up to the corner, and let the ramp out again.
The bus driver tried to let off at the bus stop nearest the city hall, but the ramp stopped short of the sidewalk and the height difference would’ve gotten me stuck. He had to retract the ramp , pull up to the corner, and let the ramp out again.
I got around fine, but a missing ramp in downtown O'Fallon forced me into the street until I found a driveway. Washington & Vine
I got around fine, but a missing ramp in downtown O’Fallon forced me into the street until I found a driveway. Washington & Vine
After crossing Cherry 4th I got stuck trying to reach the sidewalk on the West side of Cherry. I had to stand up and pull my front casters onto the sidewalk. All while hoping I don't fall -- because I can't get up on my own.
After crossing Cherry 4th I got stuck trying to reach the sidewalk on the West side of Cherry. I had to stand up and pull my front casters onto the sidewalk. All while hoping I don’t fall — because I can’t get up on my own.

I reviewed the entire route on Google Street View, my stop in downtown O”Fallon was the 82nd stop after leaving the Fairview Heights MetroLink station. We traveled through Fairview Heights, Shiloh, O’Fallon, and likely unincorporated St. Clair County.

If you care to take a look, here’s a link to all the stops. Only a few I’d consider to be ADA-compliant.

Basically this is largely impossible for those of us who are disabled, but a miserable experience for the able-bodied. None of this was built with any consideration for pedestrians — everyone is expected to drive everywhere.  The reality is not everyone can drive. Physical, mental, emotional, and financial issues are some of the reasons why not everyone drives.

Sadly, this is the rule — not the exception. We’ve built so much that’s hostile to pedestrians and impossible for some of us. Tomorrow a similar example from St. Louis County.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

When City Hall Being For Sale Is A Good Thing

December 18, 2015 Featured, History/Preservation, Metro East, Planning & Design, Real Estate Comments Off on When City Hall Being For Sale Is A Good Thing

The right buyer can buy city hall — O’Fallon Illinois’ former city hall.

Former City Hall in O'Fallon IL, 200 N. Lincoln. Click for map.
Former City Hall in O’Fallon IL, 200 N. Lincoln. Click image for map.
The Lincoln facade
The Lincoln facade
Close up of entry. The address shown is the current city hall.
Close up of entry. The address shown is the current city hall.
Washington St facade
Washington St facade
The fire department and school district are on the same block
The fire department and school district are on the same block

From their request for proposals:

The City of O’Fallon is soliciting proposals from qualified developers and/or organizations willing to invest funds to purchase and improve Old City Hall and bring it back to a productive use that will integrate well into the neighborhood. Old City Hall is an approximately 4,500 square foot GFA, two-story brick building originally constructed in 1890. It is a locally designated landmark which requires review of changes to the exterior of the building, but does not affect remodeling of the interior of the structure. All proposals should seek to preserve and enhance the architectural character of the building. Proposals that involve demolition will not be considered. The building is located inside the Central City TIF district, created in June 2015 (more information available at www.ofallon.org/economic-development-division). As publicly-owned property, the site has no Equalized Assessed Value, which allows all property taxes to be considered increment.

Currently, Old City Hall and O’Fallon Fire Station #1 are together on one parcel (PARCEL ID 04-29.0-120- 008). All proposals should note how much of the adjacent land and parking area, if any, is desired as part of the proposed redevelopment project. The City anticipates that the resulting lot would likely be no more than 0.27 acres (see attached map). The City also expects that the property will have to be rezoned from the current SR-3

(Single Family Residence District) to another appropriate district to accommodate the types of uses likely to be proposed as a part of this RFP process. It will be the responsibility of the selected developer to obtain any and all necessary zoning changes, variances, building permits, and other approvals to facilitate the development of this property.

Old City Hall most recently housed the O’Fallon Fire Department administrative offices, but has only been used for storage since 2009. As the property has been out of use for many years, the City does not have much definitive information about the current condition of the property. As mentioned in the Environmental Conditions section below, the City is aware of the presence of asbestos and mold. The building also has other issues including: degrading/rotting wooden windows, tuckpointing and masonry repair, necessary repairs and upgrades to bathrooms, HVAC, plumbing, and electrical systems. The property will be sold “as is.”

I’m glad demolition will not be considered!  Hopefully they’ll get some creative proposals.

— Steve Patterson

 

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