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Downtown Business Not So Good for Good Works

May 28, 2008 Downtown, Local Business, Parking, Retail 15 Comments

The giant ribbon-cutting scissors are barely back in their box and Good Works is pulling the rug on their second location, located on Washington at 9th (Banker’s Lofts). I attended the ribbon cutting on December 13th and I must say it was an exciting time, the ribbon cutting for Flamingo Bowl was later that same day.

Above: Deputy Mayor Barb Geisman, Ald Phyllis Young, the store manager and Jim Cloar from the Downtown Partnership cut the ribbon on December 13th, 2007.

In the Post-Dispatch on the 24th of this month the news of their closing:

In the latest blow to downtown St. Louis, Good Works Inc. will close its home-furnishings store next month due to a lack of new customers.Many of the shoppers who visited the store at 901 Washington Avenue were the same ones who frequented the Good Works store at 6323 Delmar Boulevard in University City, said Chris Dougher, one of the owners. Co-owners Dougher and Rita Navarro plan to expand the store in the Delmar Loop.

“We just aren’t generating new business,” Dougher said of the store on Washington Avenue. “It’s a huge disappointment, but we can’t foresee it changing in the near future.”

The 8,000-square-foot store, which opened in November, was one of the larger retailers to locate downtown in recent years.

The store on Delmar, which sells contemporary furniture and accessories, has been successful since opening at that location about 11 years ago.

The owners decided to open a second store on Washington Avenue because they wanted to be part of the downtown renaissance and thought it would become the next Loop.

However, a soft economy has slowed downtown loft purchases, store openings and retail spending.

On opening day I wrote:

“I wish Good Works the best of luck and hope they do get all the support they need from the city — and some on-street parking out front.”

Just imagine the loop as four traffic lanes and no on-street parking, it would totally kill the vibe that it has. That is what exists in front of the Good Works store on Washington — it is a poor pedestrian & retail environment. To do well they needed lots of customers and the area to the immediate East is a dead zone — so dead the taxi cabs get to use the sidewalk as a taxi stand. The loft crowd just doesn’t walk by this location on the way to get groceries, dinner or drinks. Too few people do walk by. OK, back to parking.

As I’ve written before I think so much of St. Louis is auto centric with too many drive-thrus and surface parking lots measured by the acre. Even downtown it is hard to take pictures without getting a damn parking garage in the image. So how can I be arguing for on-street parking? On-street parking does a number of very beneficial things for an area. First it reduces four traffic lanes down to two — much friendlier. This also helps to slow down the traffic on the street. People parking and getting in/out of their cars & feeding the meter creates activity on the street. And finally having parking in front of the store decreases the perception that downtown has a parking shortage. When someone arrives they may have to park in the next block or two but the fact that someone got to park out front helps give the impression that parking is fairly easy. This is not to say that a few on-street spaces out front would have provided a steady stream of customers but it would have changed the feel of the area for the better. Certainly more Loop-like.
Of course they recognize they were basically stealing customers from their Loop location. Not much you can say about that except it takes a lot of marketing to increase a customer base. The Loop didn’t happen overnight and neither will retail downtown. For many places the rents far exceed the number of customers.

This is why we need to take immediate steps to make downtown more pedestrian/retail friendly. On-street parking needs to be added where it doesn’t exist, add street vendors selling hot dogs, toasted ravioli, t-shirts, whatever. Street performers would also be a nice touch. The sidewalks need life to have a good stream of retail customers. If we are not quick to act I can see much of downtown being just a restaurant zone with very little retail.


Currently there are "15 comments" on this Article:

  1. Steve W-S says:

    I was about to comment that furniture shopping isn’t really a “pedestrian” activity, and then I thought about it a little more and realized you got it right yet again… The only reason I knew that Good Works in the loop existed (and subsequently shopped there) was because I walked by it regularly. Dinner at Thai Country Cafe followed by a leisurely stroll to the lion gates on one side of the street and back on the other – stopping in various shops to browse. Perhaps ice cream. Perhaps a few minutes a watching a drum circle or guitar player. Perhaps a gift purchase (or futon cover) at Good Works and a show at the Tivoli

    Sooooo much better than dinner at the Panda Express and stroll through the chain stores at the Galleria.

    One of the things that makes the Loop so successful is the need to park the car (usually in one of the back lots unless a highly coveted street spaces is acquired) and amble, sometimes heaven forbid three blocks, to the final destination. The parked cars and periodic jaywalkers slow automobile traffic to a manageable speed.

  2. Jim Zavist says:

    A furniture purchase is rarely an impulse buy. The number of potential furniture customers on Washington is relatively limited (why this location failed) while the number of restaurant customers is relatively large (why restaurants continue to open, and while a few actually thrive). The loft district is actually a relatively small community, while the loop is surrounded by U City and abuts Clayton, both areas with high disposable incomes and a lot more residents.
    I don’t disagree with your conclusions that pedestrian-friendly streets support many kinds of businesses. But not all businesses are going to be as successful on these types of streets. Furniture stores, like many other businesses, have shifted to the big box concept (www.nfm.com, to name just one, IKEA to name another) simply because people like to comparison shop. Boutique operations, like this one, also have their place, but tend to be most successful in upscale or unique shopping districts, not in downtown areas.
    As for making downtown more “retail friendly”, it already is primarily a restaurant zone with retail aimed at supporting office workers and/or conventioneers – supply meets demand. Bringing it back/making it more vibrant is going to take more than adding more “on-street parking . . . where it doesn’t exist” or adding “street vendors selling hot dogs, toasted ravioli, t-shirts, whatever.” It’s going to take educating the large number of suburban residents that a) really, you won’t get mugged or carjacked and your car won’t be broken into, b) that while you’ll probably have to pay for parking, it’s only a few bucks (and most retailers will reimburse you?), and c) that there’s something (many things?) really exciting and different when you do come down. For groceries or furniture, there are plenty of suburban options that don’t have this baggage. And for urban dwellers, we already know what’s available, and we patronize and support those businesses that best meet our needs.
    The loop works for two reasons, it’s a college shopping district and Joe Edwards. Every large university has a shopping district just off campus, that’s aimed at students with limited transportation options, a captive audience. Joe Edwards has added to this mix with a heavy focus on nearly-nightly entertainment – it works, but it’s taken both time and money. Washington is different – it has its loft residents, its conventioneers and its daytime office workers. Both areas are also reflections of the free market at work – businesses that serve the needs of each areas’ customers do well, those that don’t, don’t. Tweaking the physical environment can change the customer base, to a certain extent, but to a large degree it boils down to location and synergy. If Good Works had twenty other similar retailers nearby, they’d all see a lot more customers. But being a stand-alone, destination business is tough – people both gotta know you’re there and they gotta want make the effort to go there (see Fast Eddies in Alton or Ted Drewe’s in South City). Nice try, but business is truly Darwinian . . . In reality, if BPV ever gets off the ground, it could probably be something that will really help downtown – if the word gets out that St. louis is a great place to attend a convention, it’s one industry that can grow comfortably in the CBD!

    [slp — It was before you moved to St Louis but U-City used to have a no parking rule on Delmar during the evening rush period.  It was horrible — the street looked abandoned.  Changing the parking regulations make a huge difference in the area and we have that to partly thank for the success of the street today.] 

  3. john says:

    Oh right, I need a spot on the street to park my fuel efficient SmartCar in order to load my new leather sofa in the trunk. Facilitating more auto traffic doesn’t make our streets pedestrian friendly and many other businesses have chosen not to locate downtown…the decisions had little to do with parking.

    [slp — Actually the city has refused to permit on-street parking because they want to have as many lanes open for motorists as possible.  Reducing traffic from four lanes down to two would make the street more pedestrian friendly.] 

  4. Adam says:

    don’t forget there are hundreds (thousands?) of affordable apartments — many rented by college students — just off delmar in u city. no such environment exists downtown.

  5. I would agree that we need more affordable rental properties Downtown.

  6. john says:

    Reducing traffic from four to two lanes would make it more pedestrian friendly…until the car culture mentality takes over once again. Sections of Hanley Rd (one example of many) also allowed street parking which narrowed a four lane to two traveling lanes. The closing of Highway 40 opened the door to eliminate street parking as urged by StL County. The road is now more dangerous than ever before for pedestrians and this new arrangement will get worse… it is supported in order to support the new parking garage for Centene employees. Success locally is measured by auto traffic and supporting infrastructure.

    [slp — We are not talking about Clayton or Hanley.  We are talking about the region’s downtown and Washington Ave which is still mostly contiguous ground level spaces available for retail/restaurant uses.  In this context leaving four lanes for traffic is more a nod to the “car culture.”] 

  7. Brian L says:

    The problem with street parking is that it needs to be done in such a way as not to interfere with traffic in heavy-flow areas. Looking at Jefferson south of Chouteau, for example. There’s that intersection at Park with the protected-left turn signal coming out of a through lane, and parking available in the righthand lane. If the street is busy and someone wants to make a left turn, and people are parked in the right lane, Jefferson instantly goes from three southbound lanes to one.

    I like what U City did with delmar – indicating with solid lines and meters that the outer lanes are reserved for parking (which wasn’t the case when I lived there in 2000-02), and just telling drivers to take another street if they don’t like it. I know the younger Bosley is not a big fan of pedestrians and public transit (his position on Joe Edwards’s trolleys make that clear), and that’s an attitude that I think a large number of our city leaders share.

    But Washington needs to be a walking-friendly street, with wide sidewalks and ample parking. It’s already that way through the club district west of Tucker; I can’t conceive that there’s so much traffic downtown that that can’t be done east of Tucker too.

  8. DeBaliviere says:

    I think Good Works may have been a victim of a bad location. The Bankers Lofts’ location might be better suited for a restaurant/bar, while Good Works might have had a better shot at success west of Tucker.

    [slp — Agreed but what makes the location bad for retail and OK for a restaurant? I personally think it would be bad for a restaurant that relies on sidewalk dining.] 

  9. GMichaud says:

    I think you are right, a pedestrian friendly environment would have helped enormously. Not only parking along the street, but as you point out there are many dead areas, many, many dead areas downtown and all over St. Louis that turn the pedestrian experience into the a mindless hike similar to crossing the massive suburban parking lots like at the Galleria.
    I don’t see downtown as primarily a restaurant zone and in fact from what I have seen around the world pedestrian friendly areas do in fact support many kinds of retail business.
    Of course it requires comprehensive mass transit and a fully walkable environment to realize the benefit of good walking zones.
    Even the new multi-modal transit center was built in a desolate area. Unless you are going to see a hockey game you have to hike a long way to get anywhere else. It is not a walkable environment and a horrible predicament for travelers (guess they need to park a car somewhere near).
    This same style of incoherent city planning impacts all of downtown and St. Louis for that matter. The bottom line is there is a tremendous gap in understanding on the part of city leadership when it comes to proper town planning and it’s impact on businesses like Good Works.
    Of course the people at silly hall jump up and down and cry we want business to move to St. Louis, and as the photograph shows well, they make a big deal about it when it happens. But the infrastructure and skill in town planning is not in place to encourage and promote success.
    That being said Good Works must have a lousy management to close so soon. Nor can I believe their clients are old ones coming from U City. Why would someone drive downtown to buy a futon when they are right there? In fact how many futons does a family need? While I realize they carry other items, it just seems a little far fetched that downtown clients are their old ones.

  10. john says:

    Oh I see Steve, parking on streets is more sustainable than allowing cycling lanes for a more prosperous and pedestrian friendly communities. That is clearly an auto-centric mentality spiced with a little green tidbits of convenient consumerism. No, leaving four lanes to cars (ie. two for parking, two for travel) is providing the car culture with an acceptable “compromise”?

    [slp — a bike lane does not provide pedestrians the same sense of protection from passing cars. The way bike lanes are implemented in the U.S. (starting & stopping suddenly) I don’t think they are safe for cyclists. The mere presence of parked cars does not make something auto centric.  However, removing the outside driving lanes for bike lanes would be an improvement for pedestrians  It would do nothing, however, to help retail traffic.]

  11. Jim Zavist says:

    The basic criteria for success in retail is customers. Good Works’ lack of success here is neither an indicator that retail can’t work here, nor is it an indicator that Good Works’ business model is flawed. A store’s physical environment is just one factor in its success or failure. So are product, service (or lack thereof), price, proximity to the customer, competitors, other locations of the same brand, customers’ income, customers’ priorities, the economy, etc., etc.
    One big challenge for downtown is a lack of focus. When you think of the CWE, Chesterfield Commons, the Loop, South County Mall, Michigan Avenue or even Highway K in St. Chuck, you have a pretty good idea what to expect/what you’ll be able to find. When you think of downtown St. Louis, is it Washington Avenue, Macy’s, St. Louis Center, Kiener Plaza, the sports bars around Busch Stadium, Union Station, Laclede’s Landing or Crown Candy? While it’s all of these, the overall image is muddy and primarily one of entertainment venues, bars and restaurants. For CBD retailers, of both hard and soft goods, they’re competing with everything out in the suburbs, many times other locations of the same chains. There’s no real perception of a critical mass of specialty retailers to draw people down.
    I know it’s the classic chicken-or-egg conundrum, but the two realities remain that the CBD is no longer the hub for a city of 800,000 residents, it’s one shopping option for a city of 350,000 residents, and the suburban shopping options have exploded over the past fifty years, giving both city and suburban residents many more alternatives to shopping downtown. Just because we have a lot of (formerly) retail space available doesn’t mean we have either businesses willing to take a chance on opening or enough real customers to support more than the current number, types and mix of businesses.
    Michigan Avenue works in/near downtown Chicago for two reasons, there’s a large number of residents nearby and it’s a destination for many shoppers, including more than a few from St. Louis, that don’t live nearby. To regain its former luster, downtown St. Louis will need to do the same thing – attract both more residents and create something special that will attract shoppers from the suburbs and beyond (and yes, St. Lous Mills is one of many competitors, as will be the new lifestyle center opening this fall out in Lake St. Louis). The plans for both St. Louis Center and Ball Park Village offer glimmers of hope, but they need to be tied into a better focus for the rest of the CBD.

  12. DeBaliviere says:

    [slp — Agreed but what makes the location bad for retail and OK for a restaurant? I personally think it would be bad for a restaurant that relies on sidewalk dining.]

    My thinking is that the building’s proximity to numerous office buildings, hotels and the convention center in addition to several loft developments give it a nice built-in customer base. Downtown’s daytime population – office workers, conventioneers/tourists, etc. – is much more likely to stop in for a beer or a bite to eat than go furniture shopping. Sidewalk dining could always be accomodated on the 9th Street side of the building, where it would be less obtrusive to pedestrian traffic.

  13. Margie says:

    The ribbon cutting was less than six months ago. And they most likely didn’t make the decision to close this week.
    My point: a retailer doesn’t invest that much in a new space and inventory and then bail a few months later without attempting to market. I suspect there is more to this story than is being reported.
    Note they are in a Pyramid-owned building. Perhaps a sweet deal with Pyramid no longer applies? Just a guess. Again, six months?! Something curious here.

  14. Jay says:

    The Banker’s Lofts building is NOT owned by Pyramid. They sold the last 10 units and the retail space to an investor a year or two ago.

    Also, for those of you who haven’t shopped at Good Works in a while (or ever), it is NOT a futon store. They sell moderately priced furniture (sofas, tables, chairs, beds, dressers), rugs, artwork, accessories and gifts.

    Anyone who doubts that street parking helps make a block feel more pedestrian friendly just needs to walk from 9th and Washington to 11th and Washington. In front of Banker’s it feels like you are on a freeway shoulder. In front of Dorsa it feels much more like the Loop.

  15. That is quite impossible for now since Downtown is affected by financial crisis.


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