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Downtown Fiat Display Closed

Last month the downtown display-only showroom for Lou Fusz Fiat closed.

The store was not a licensed dealership — a costly process that involves permission from the auto manufacturer, in this case Chrysler, and usually a sizable investment — but rather a display not unlike what you might find in a shopping mall. It also enlivened a storefront downtown that had sat empty for several years, so much so that the building’s owner let Fusz occupy the space rent-free. (stltoday)

Indeed the cars inside the corner space of 1015 Locust more interesting. Once again, it is empty.

ABOVE: Two of the five 500s on display in the showroom
ABOVE: Two of the five 500s on display in the showroom in April 2012
Note in window on June 27th
Note in window on June 27th

I wrote If It Sounds Too Good To Be True… in January 2012 when others were splitting hairs between “dealership” and “full-service dealership.” With a staff person and availability of test drives this was more than a simple display, though well short of a full dealership. The Missouri legislature must have thought it was too close to being a dealership and tightened up laws to clarify displays.

Of course, Lou Fusz could build an actual dealership. I could picture an urban dealership at Tucker & Cass, easily reached by downtown residents/workers and visible to the thousands that’ll come into downtown on the new I-70 bridge when it opens next year.

— Steve Patterson

 

New Bakery Visible To Pedestrians

It isn’t unusual for local restaurants to bake their own desserts, breads, buns, and rolls. What is unusual is to have the operation visible to pedestrians passing by on the public sidewalk!

One of two large windows looking into the Baileys' Restaurants baking operation
One of two large windows on 11th looking into the Baileys’ Restaurants baking operation
The other window on 11th Street
The other window on 11th Street
A sign indicates the reasons for the new bakery space.

If you can’t read the image above, here’s the gist:

  1. Moved bakery from Baileys’ Range to make room for more bathrooms.
  2. To make fresh-baked muffins & breakfast pastries to sell at Rooster.
  3. Plan to function as a small independent baker, selling baked goods (breads, pastries) at Rooster.

Baileys’ Restaurants family includes: Baileys’ Chocolate Bar, Rooster, Bridge Tap House & Wine Bar, Baileys’ Range, the Fifth Wheel at 4 Hands Brewery, and later this year Small Batch:

Bailey’s latest endeavor will be located in the Locust Street Automotive District (a.k.a. Automotive Row), a string of buildings along Locust Street (part of what’s now known as “Midtown Alley”), former home to more than a few early-20th century automotive dealerships.

Bailey’s restaurants all have different vibes and culinary leanings. His latest is no different—and may be his most ambitious.

Small Batch will hone in on “American whiskey and bourbons, both neat and blended with a library of house blended liqueurs, bitters, tonics, and tinctures,” according to Bailey, whose email noted that “beer will also play a prominent role.”

Playing an even more prominent role will be vegetables: look for a 100-percent vegetarian menu at Small Batch, a name that could be extrapolated to connote the increasing but still limited supply of local and heirloom produce that’s in high demand in local culinary circles. (St. Louis Magazine)

I’ve begun going down 11th just so I can get glimpses of the workers creating inside. Much more interesting than some storefront spaces that are now someone’s office.

— Steve Patterson

 

Metro Fails At Retailing

Retailing isn’t easy, successful brick & mortar retailers hire consultants, question focus groups,  and study market trends, to get customers through the door. Store design is an important part of the equation.  Many firms specialize in retail design.

I covered this topic last August after a seeing the transit agency store in Dallas (see Transit Visibility: Metro vs DART). Metro’s MetroRide store on Washington Avenue is pathetic.

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Last August I showed this pic to help illustrate the problem. Which entrance is the transit store?
ABOVE: It's obvious now, right?
Obviously this one, right?

Each time I visit the MetroRide store to buy transit passes I realize it is the result of a quasi-government agency that has zero competition. Where is the hungry merchant trying to drum up sales to cover the rent payment? It’s like the exclusive restaurant

I took this similar pic a few days ago, it was impossible  to even tell if the lights were on.
I took this similar pic a few days ago, it was impossible to even tell if the lights were on.

Sure, those of us who seek it out don’t need a big neon sign or even a simple “open” sign in the window, but it might help get the attention of others walking by. Tourists might inquire about the downtown trolley and what else they can see without a car.

I’d like to see Metro make it obvious to anyone walking, or driving, past the MetroRide store to know it is a place to buy transit passes and pick up  schedules.  As a fan of gift shops, I’d also like to see St. Louis transit-related merchandise: t-shirts, postcards, magnets, calendars, etc. I still have a puzzle of the Philly transit map I bought on vacation in 2001, but I have almost nothing for St. Louis. I’d love a toy MetroBus.

Step up your retail game Metro!

— Steve Patterson

 

Poll Results On Downtown Macy’s

Just over half (50.77%) the readers who voted in the poll last week felt the closing of the downtown Macy’s will have a negative/very negative affect on downtown. Here are the results:

Q: How will Macy’s closing their downtown location affect downtown St. Louis in the long-term?

  1. Negatively 47 [36.15%]
  2. Neutral 43 [33.08%]
  3. Very negatively 19 [14.62%]
  4. Positively 11 [8.46%]
  5. Unsure/No Answer 6 [4.62%]
  6. Very positively 4 [3.08%]

Here’s my take (not spin): I specifically included “in the long-term” in the question because I think the short-term effect will be negative, but will be neutral in the long-term. How long is long-term? I’d say 8-10 years, in this case.

Cities/neighborhoods are resilient places, provided they don’t pass a tipping point. For many of us that live downtown, Macy’s just wasn’t that important. I personally bought more from Macys.com than in the Macy’s store. When Macy’s closed both restaurants in the consolidation to 3 floors a couple of years ago I no longer had a reason to visit.    Previously I’d attend a monthly lunch in the St. Louis Room, then browse the kitchenware section afterwards, often making a purchase.

On the positive side I see the void as opening up the market so another retailer might consider a new store. The new urban CityTarget format comes to mind:

The Chicago store is housed in a 113-year old historical landmark constructed by architect Louis Sullivan in the heart of the city at the corner of State and Madison Streets. Nearby retailers include H&M, Forever 21, Office Depot, Nordstrom Rack, Sears and T.J. Maxx.

CityTarget stores are more expensive to operate and build, as they are housed in pre-existing spaces, Schindele said. In Chicago, for example, Target had to rip out old floors and strip dozens of coats of paint off of columns to give the store the CityTarget look.

CityTarget shelves are bright white rather than almond-colored. Mannequins, tested in one Target store, and brushed silver racks are used to display clothing. In a first for the Target chain, music plays in the Chicago and Seattle locations. (Huffington Post)

CityTarget stores are also located in Seattle, Los Angeles (2), San Francisco. Additional CityTarget locations are planned for Boston & Portland OR,  with additional stores in LA and SF.

Last month, in a different conference call, Target chief financial officer John Mulligan said the company was “very excited” about the CityTarget concept.

Target plans to open three more this year, Mulligan said. “And then, we’ve said all along, we’ll pause,” Mulligan said. “We’re pretty thoughtful about things like this. So we’re going to pause in 2014 and evaluate where we are at.” (Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal)

So even if Target can be interested it’ll be a while before it would happen. Other retailers might see an opportunity in the meantime.

— Steve Patterson

 

McKinley Heights Code Made New Family Dollar Better Than Their Boilerplate, Still Has Room For Improvement

In case you haven’t noticed, Family Dollar stores are popping up all over St. Louis. From November 2012:

Family Dollar Stores Inc. will expand its store base by 500 this fiscal year as it looks to capture a bigger share of the dollar-store market. (Charlotte Business Journal)

A good number of those 500 new stores seem to be in St. Louis, I’ve spotted new locations next to Jefferson Commons, Grand @ Magnolia and now Jefferson near Gravois.

New Family Dollar entrance doesn't face Jefferson & Victor.
New Family Dollar entrance doesn’t face Jefferson & Victor.

So what does their typical new construction look like? Not much architecturally, with little to no connection to the sidewalk.

Family Dollar at 6000 Natural Bridge has no connection to public sidewalk. Click image to see my post.
Family Dollar at 6000 Natural Bridge, built in 2006, has no connection to public sidewalk. Click image to see my post from March 2011.
In 2007 Family Dollar built this location on Dr. Martin Luther King, just west of Grand
In 2007 Family Dollar built this location on Dr. Martin Luther King, just west of Grand

When building these two stores in 2006 & 2007 they used a pretty auto-centric approach and the cheapest materials. Now let’s take a look at the south Jefferson location where they built their newest location, starting with the Burger King that occupied the site for years.

Closed Burger King December 2011
Closed Burger King December 2011, looking north along Jefferson
North side of the former Burger King facing Victor St.
North side of the former Burger King facing Victor St.

The Burger King was a typical suburban design in what was previously an urban location. Years of chipping away at the urban fabric devalued the urban experience, but money was made. That is, until it got old, then the money stopped flowing. Uses for former fast food restaurants are limited, often to check cashing places or other businesses that could care less about the city where they are located.  Okay, back to the site on Jefferson.

By August 2012 the site was  back to bare earth.
By August 2012 the site was back to bare earth.

b

The north side facing Victor St has a red brick veneer, but no doors or windows.
The north side facing Victor St has a red brick veneer, but no doors or windows.
The Jefferson facade is narrow, with blank walls at the intersection.
The Jefferson facade is narrow, doesn’t come out to the sidewalk, with blank walls at the intersection.

The McKinley Heights Historic District Design Standards is to thank for the fact this store isn’t awful like the prior examples. The follow section, in particular:

ARTICLE 5: COMMERCIAL DEVELOPMENT CORRIDORS DESIGN STANDARDS

501 NEW CONSTRUCTION AND EXISTING NON?HISTORIC COMMERCIAL BUILDINGS

All new construction within the designated Commercial Development Corridor (the Corridor) must be reviewed and approved by the Preservation Board taking into account the following considerations:

501.1 Height

New buildings must be constructed within 15 percent of the average height of existing buildings on the block. Any additions must be compatible with both the existing building and the surrounding structures.

501.2 Scale

The scale of all proposed new construction in the Corridor must respect the existing scale of any surrounding historic structures by seeking to minimize the difference in height, mass, fenestration and location. Any additions must be compatible with both the existing building and the surrounding structures.

501.3 Location

New or moved commercial structures shall be positioned on the lot to not only enhance the character of the commercial location but also to be compatible with the surrounding streetscape. Any additions must be compatible with both the existing building and the surrounding structures.

501.4 Exterior Materials

All new building materials shall be compatible in type and texture with the dominant materials of adjacent buildings. While artificial masonry such as “Permastone” is not permitted, introduction of new materials for new construction will be considered. A submission of all building material samples shall be required prior to approval. Any additions must be compatible with both the existing building and the surrounding structures.

501.5 Details

Details on new structures should be compatible with the surrounding built environment. Any additions must be compatible with both the existing building and the surrounding structures.

I have numerous problems with the code:

  1. The code is 41 pages of text! Not a single diagram to illustrate what is desired, or what is discouraged. Lawyers might like to read written code, but those trying to design to codes are often visual learners.  The general public can benefit greatly from diagrams, increasing understanding.
  2. If someone wanted to build a 5-story urban/mixed-use building on this site, it wouldn’t be allowed because it would be greater than 15% above the few 1-2 story buildings on the block. Never mind that we have 2 story buildings next to 5+ story buildings in many historic neighborhoods. Increased density, if allowed, not required, would be good for area businesses.
  3. The code is too general: compatible, respect, and enhance are all subjective terms.
  4. Form-based codes, for example, deal with issues such as width of the building facing the primary street, more building should’ve faced Jefferson.

I’m very glad this code is in place, but I’d like to see it and others improved.

— Steve Patterson

 

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