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24/7 Old Post Office District Closed on the Weekends

Part of the justification offered for razing the Century Building, that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was that it had to be sacrificed for parking for the Old Post Office  – the centerpiece of a 24/7 district.

It has been a couple of years now and I’m still waiting for the area to get beyond 11/5:

The Pasta House Pronto,  located in the Old Post Office, is not offering 24/7 fare.  Granted, the customers are not there.  But if they were, they’ve got plenty of parking.  Most of the exciting 24/7 areas I know of in other cities are known for their numerous businesses and shortage of parking.

Non-profit, government  & library tenants also aren’t known for their contribution to 24/7 living.

When the Schnuck’s grocery store, Culinaria, opens next week I hope they maintain at least the daily 7am to 9pm hours that City Grocers has had for years.  My fear is they will cut back on days and hours within a year.  I hope my fears prove unfounded.

Maybe they will be open 24/7?

– Steve Patterson


The Future of the Department Store

June 29, 2009 Retail 18 Comments

A century ago in cities all over the country the downtown department store was the place to go shopping.  Wikipedia defines a department store as:

a retail establishment which specializes in satisfying a wide range of the consumer’s personal and residential durable goods product needs; and at the same time offering the consumer a choice multiple merchandise lines, at variable price points, in all product categories. Department stores usually sell products including apparel, furniture, home appliances, electronics, and additionally select other lines of products such as paint, hardware, toiletries, cosmetics, photographic equipment, jewelery, toys, and sporting goods. Certain department stores are further classified as discount department stores. Discount department stores commonly have central customer checkout areas, generally in the front area of the store. Department stores are usually part of a retail chain of many stores situated around a country or several countries.

The next to last sentence above is an important distinction – central checkout for discount department stores (Target, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, etc) versus a check out at in each department.  As the population transitioned from streetcars to cars purchases per trip could get larger.  But they’d need parking lots to hold the cars.  Traditional downtown stores opened free-standing stores outside the central business district and eventually they anchored open-air & enclosed malls.

I grew up in Oklahoma City.  In the early 1970s I’d go shopping with my mom at suburban locations of TG&Y, Otasco, and Sears.   Crossroads Mall opened 8 days before my 7th  birthday on 2/17/1974.  At only 1.7 miles from my house I would often bike there in later years.  We never went to downtown.  I assume a department store(s) existed downtown, I just never saw one.

Retailing has changed dramatically over the  last 100 years and even since 1974.  The 3-4 anchors at Crossroads Mall have all closed. Target is huge.  Wal-Mart is bigger.  People buy ketchup by the gallon at stores like Sam’s Club & Costco.  Amazon.com is a retail force.

In the last year and a half I’ve been to the Macy’s store in downtown St. Louis numerous times.  At just 10 blocks to the East it is the closest big store to me.  But most often I go to visit the two restaurants contained within, not to shop.  Clothing is the item I’ve most often purchased from traditional department stores.  When I think of buying housewares, furniture, or electronics I don’t think of the traditional department store. But I don’t even buy clothing at these stores.  Doesn’t matter to me if they are downtown or anchoring a suburban mall, the department store just isn’t the place where I like to shop.  Build me a downtown Target, however, and I will be there.  .

I can’t be the only one that thinks this way.  Does the traditional department store, downtown or not, have much of a future?

– Steve Patterson


Poll, How Often Do You Shop at a Local Farmers’ Market?

The poll for this week has to do with how frequently you shop at your local farmers’ markets. I like to go a couple of times a month.   Soulard Farmers’ Market is usually one of those stops:

Above: St. Louis Soulard Farmers Market, May 2009
Above: St. Louis' Soulard Farmers' Market, May 2009

Of course I like new markets in addition to the classics like Soulard:

Above, Tower Grove Farmers Market, May 2006
Above, Tower Grove Farmer's Market, May 2006

When traveling I like to take in a city’s market.  Not for produce but for local flavor:

Above: Seattles Pike Place Market, March 2009
Above: Seattle's Pike Place Market, March 2009
Above: Torontos St. Lawrence Market, July 2006
Above: Toronto's St. Lawrence Market, July 2006
Above: Seattles Pike Place Market, October 2003
Above: Seattle's Pike Place Market, October 2003
Above: Vancouvers Granville Island, October 2003
Above: Vancouver's Granville Island, October 2003
Above: Philadelpias Reading Terminal Market
Above: Philadelpia's Reading Terminal Market, October 2001

I don’t see these markets putting the big grocery chains out of business anytime soon but when you’ve got a market with real farmers it is nice to buy your radishes from the person that pulled them out of the soil.  The poll is located in the top right corner of the main page.


Poll, Street Vendors in St. Louis

One of the great things I love about dynamic cities is the diversity of choice when it comes to dining. These cities have a range from affordable street food to cloth napkin fine dining.   Here in St. Louis we’ve got the latter nailed but we are lacking on the former.  Street food, in my view, is a prerequisite for achieving the 24/7 downtown our leaders speak about.

Last year around this time I wrote on the same subject.  My intro was:

Bustling sidewalks and numerous food vendors are hallmarks of great urban streets. Food vendors sell everything from hot dogs, pretzels, nuts, ice cream, water/soda, kabobs and all sorts of other street food. In St. Louis our laws severely limit food & other street vendors leaving our sidewalks less than lively than they could or should be.

Downtown St. Louis has a limit of 10 vendor permits.  Outside of downtown there are only a couple of spots where vending can legally take place.

This week’s poll (upper right of main page) is about street vendors.

2001: Flower vendor in Philly
Flower vendor in Philly

So take the poll and use the comments below to share your thoughts on the subject.

Hot dog vendor in Toronto
Hot dog vendor in Toronto
Newsstand in NYC
Newsstand in NYC
Food vendor in Philly
Food vendor in Philly

Street vendors come in all shapes and sizes.  Some form of regulation is certainly necessary but I feel we’ve gone too far by limiting the number of permits to 10 for the central business district.  I’ve never seen all 10 out at the same time.

If you agree that downtown and other parts of the city could benefit an increase in the number of street vendors, please take a moment and contact 7th Ward Alderman Phyllis Young.  Politely ask her to introduce legislation before the Board of Aldermen to allow more street vendors so that we can begin to activate our sidewalks.

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Walkable Retail in Suburban Locations, Part 2

Yesterday I blogged Seattle’s updated Northgate Mall.  Today we head East to University Village, long known as U-Village.

Like Northgate Mall, University Village dates to the 1950s.  Unlike Northgate Mall, U-Village has remained an open air shopping center since opening in 1956 (view aerial) .

This shopping center is just East of the University of Washington. Although it is very auto-friendly it is also pedestrian friendly.  Students & others have the choice of this center or a more traditional gridded area on the West side of campus at The Ave.

Most of the buildings are original but remodeled to the point they look different than they did decades ago.

Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza came to mind as I was here, although I prefer the grid and public streets at the Plaza.

Above, this area with storefronts facing each other has existed since opening.  Such spaces often became the basis for an enclosed mall.

New structures have been woven throughout, helping break up the parking.

Bike racks are numerous and highly visible.  Pedestrians were everywhere as are signs to remind motorists.

Nice details give folks a pleasant place to sit and chat.  U Village succeeds where Northgate Mall fails.

Outside my mecca, the Apple Store, a woman walks her dog.

More Information:

Right now U Village is not mixed use but that may change:

City to review car impacts from U. Village QFC project

A project to add 31,000 square feet of new retail space and 350 residences around the University Village QFC grocery story would likely have a significant impact on traffic and parking in the area, Seattle planners have determined.

The city has called for an environmental impact statement, which would include a detailed examination of such issues and how they could be addressed. While planners have preliminarily identified traffic and parking as significant issues, they will host a March 16 to allow people to comment on which issues should be part of the review. (source)

Parking is not excessive by typical suburban standards.  Hopefully they will be able to add residential to the site.