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The Future of the Brick & Mortar Retail Store

Many of us think of a big chain store first when we need to purchase something but the retail landscape is changing as many big chains face financial difficulty:

ABOVE: Garage-level entrance to the Best Buy in Brentwood
ABOVE: Garage-level entrance to the Best Buy in Brentwood

Retail is an industry in decline—but only for traditional retailers. For companies that have become successful doing something else, opening a chain of stores can bring millions of new customers and the profits that go with them. This paradox of the retail marketplace is evident in some of the biggest names at the mall. Traditional retailers such as Best Buy, J.C. Penney, Sears, and Kmart are struggling to reverse losses, turn themselves around and give shoppers new reasons to think they’re relevant. The recently announced merger of Office Max and Office Depot is just the latest example of a retail glut that has already sunk Borders, CompUSA, Circuit City, and many others. Yet Apple, a technology company and newcomer to the retail scene, operates a network of more than 200 U.S. stores that have created a new paradigm for brick-and-mortar success. Microsoft, a software company, runs about 60 U.S. stores, with plans to open more. Even Google, an information company, is rumored to have retail ambitions. (US News)

Even giants like Walmart are doing good to get 5% growth:

That sluggish curve is clearly one reason the Arkansas-based company has started devoting so much time and attention to its Silicon Valley operations. Headquartered just south of San Francisco, Walmart.com is heavily recruiting tech talent. And in some ways its investment is starting to pay off. The company’s wide-ranging experiments in “clicks-and-mortar” retail have put it at the forefront of merging online, offline and mobile commerce. (Wired)

Are retail stores doomed as more of us shop online? Thankfully, no.

Just because more people shop online, though, doesn’t mean they’ll stop shopping at stores completely. Indeed, for most retail sectors, a physical store can serve a fundamentally different function, giving consumers the ability to see, taste and touch the products in a way that is impossible online. The challenge for retailers in the future, industry analysts say, will be to figure out a way to play up the strengths of the bricks-and-mortar store while incorporating new technology into the experience. (The Street)

The changing retail landscape does mean everyone involved in city development needs to rethink what “retail” means. For many the word conjures up images of 2-3 massive big box (50,000-200,000sf) stores connected by numerous small (5,000-15,000sf) stores.  Those who think of this when they hear retail don’t understand how I can advocate for street-level retail in commercial districts. How will it fit? Parking?

ABOVE: Retail operations pop up all over the city everyday
ABOVE: Retail operations pop up all over the city everyday

They fail to realize retail doesn’t even need a box. The point is “retail” comes in all shapes & sizes, it’s ridiculous to try to put all retail into the same box. We also can’t fool ourselves into thinking people will ever buy stuff the way they did decades ago. Downtown will never again be the retail center of the region.

— Steve Patterson

 

I’d Love an Urban Plant Nursery in Downtown St. Louis

In the first months of this blog, three years before I moved downtown, I posted about what Washington Avenue was missing. In the eight years since many of the types of stores I listed have opened, though some closed as well. A florist & kitchen store are examples of two types of stores that opened and closed.

One retail type that didn’t occur to me at the time is a nursery.

ABOVEL Nursery in Manhattan on October 30, 2001
ABOVEL Nursery in Manhattan on October 30, 2001

Living downtown for 5+ years now I see a need for a nursery that can easily be reached without a car. Potted plants for indoors, bedding plants for the balcony, seeds and  other supplies. In addition to residents, office workers might like a small plant to brighten their desk. Paperwhites anyone?

Such a business could transform a dreary & forgotten space. All that’s needed is a fenced area that gets some sun & rain plus access to water & power.

ABOVE: One location might be this unused corner of the Mansion House complex
ABOVE: One location might be this unused corner (bottom left) of the Mansion House complex

There may not be a sufficient market for such a retail business downtown, it would most certainly be seasonal. Still I hope some green thumb reads this and considers it.

In the Central West End is the very nice, but pricey, Bowood Farms and associated Cafe Osage. Both are great but they’ve made a substantial investment in the location which is reflected in the prices. Still, when I had a car I’d go there as well as the former gas station turned nursery of University Gardens.

— Steve Patterson

 

Old Gas Station, New Use

Nearly two years ago, March 18, 2011, ground was broken on a rehab & new construction project called Botanical Grove, west of Botanical Heights and part of the area once known as McRee Town. The main focus that day was residential — rehab of existing buildings and new modern infill. I was there and thrilled by the ambitious plans of the developers. The work continues but many of the residential units are occupied by homeowners. I was also skeptical about the future of a tiny little former gas station at the corner of McRee & Tower Grove Ave.

ABOVE:
ABOVE: The gas station I saw on March 18, 2011

I could see the appeal and potential but I knew the lending climate that existed, would anything come of the idea to remake the gas station? In a word, yes!

ABOVE:
ABOVE: On February 16, 2013 I visited Olio with friends. Olio had been open a few months at this point. Click image for Olio’s website.
ABOVE: Interior of Olio
ABOVE: Interior of Olio retains & exposes much of the old structure
ABOVE: Baked yogurt dessert
ABOVE: Baked yogurt with honey & compote dessert

Some will say gentrification, the affluent are pushing out the poor. I see a once decrepit structure brought back to live bringing in tax revenue for the city and employing people. Botanical Heights to the east employed the cleared earth strategy of urban renewal but Botanical Grove kept and rehabbed many existing structures and infilled on vacant lots. Many housing types were offered as a result.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Chronicle Coffee Now Open, Grand Opening Soon

Last July I posted about a New Coffeehouse Opening Soon on Page Blvd Just East of Grand Ave. It took a white while to open but last month it finally did. A few days ago I met someone there and returned for lunch.  The concept is simple, a nice neighborhood coffeehouse that hires employees from the area.

ABOVE: Chronicle Coffee is located in the corner of a building that also houses the St. Louis Public Housing Authority and a PNG Bank branch.  Click for Google Maps.
ABOVE: Chronicle Coffee is located in the corner of a building that also houses the St. Louis Public Housing Authority and a PNG Bank branch. Click for Google Maps.

But how do you make such an enterprise financially viable? During my visit I was able to chat with the owner, turns out the answer is through acquisition!

Rick Milton, owner of Northwest Coffee Roasting Co., has sold his company to Jason Wilson, the owner of Chronicle Coffee. Chronicle is located just north of Grand Center at 1235 Blumeyer Ave. The sale, completed in December, includes both the Northwest Coffee roasting operation as well as Northwest Coffee cafes in Clayton and the Central West End. (Sauce Magazine)

By buying the well established Northwest Coffee Wilson has quality coffee for Chronicle and a good place to train new employees.

ABOVE: Owner Jason Wilson sat down with us to talk about Chronicle, Northwest and creating jobs in a community in need of work.
ABOVE: Owner Jason Wilson sat down with us to talk about Chronicle, Northwest, and creating jobs in a community in need of more employment opportunities.
ABOVE: Tables & chairs will arrive next month
ABOVE: Tables & chairs will arrive next month

One wall of Chronicle Coffee includes enlarged black & white prints of the former Blumeyer public housing project that once  occupied the immediate area.I know I’ll return when I’m nearby. Wilson is finalizing plans for their grand opening later this month.

— Steve Patterson

 

9th Street Storefront Being Emptied

December 28, 2012 Downtown, Featured, Retail 3 Comments

Starting to see some positive action on the vacant storefront I first posted about in September (Storefront Still Vacant A Decade Later, Tax Dollars Wasted?) and again in October (Hotel Has Used State-Owned Retail Storefront Rent-Free For A Decade).

ABOVE: December 18th the doors were opened
ABOVE: December 18th the doors were opened
ABOVE: Peaked in, very full of stuff
ABOVE: I peaked in, very full of stuff
ABOVE: A few days later on December 21st I went by again and saw a truck out front
ABOVE: A few days later on December 21st I went by again and saw a truck out front
ABOVE: This time the space was nearly empty.
ABOVE: This time the space was nearly empty.

Looks like the space is being readied to lease to a retail tenant, after a decade of rent-free use as storage.  Maybe it won’t get leased right away or it’ll get leased and the first tenant will fail, but we have to try.

Putting up paper over storefront windows for a decade in a city that needs more sidewalk activity is just destructive. To do it in a state-owned building built by an agency whose mission it is to foster development is baffling.

— Steve Patterson

 

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