Op-Ed: In planning main streets, the mix is crucial

thinking about CC
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
by Chuck Napoli

Mix it up in the hamlets so that they provide a retail recipe composed of chain stores and what we call mom-and-pops. Chain stores have met our convenience and consistency needs—they have the style and, according to my wife, “the-size-8-fits-me-just-right”—while Barry and Rick’s Britches-type mom-and-pop shops offer highly specialized products, along with service and experiences that provide that friendly, personal touch that suits you specially and where everybody knows your name.

The Chappaqua hamlet is rich with personal, authentic relationships and highly specialized products and services found, for example, at Micolay, Quaker Hill, Local, Nicolaysen and Docs Lipari & Mangiameli, DDS (literally a mom-and-pop), Britches, a pop-and-pop, and George’s men shop a father-son-son-daughter-and-daughter team included. In addition to property owners Britches, Nicolaysen Agency and Docs Lipari & Mangiameli, there is Petticoat Lane, Sherry B, Donna Hair, Marmalade, Chappaqua Restaurant, Healthy Choice Apothecary and Alec Perlson, OD—all property owners as well as merchants. The father-son purveyors at Chappaqua Village Market and another father son-team at Mario’s and the mother-daughter duo at Dance Emotions further bolster our buying options.

There’s every reason to love the mom-and-pops— and “[p]people pay extra in order to have that experience,” says Architect and City Planner Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time.

But Speck found too that “the most successful Main Streets in the U.S. are about half mom-and-pops, and half chains. No one wants to go where it’s only chains,”— the strip malls that are home to the massive “big- box category killers” and discounters, ad infinitum. Naturally,  Speck notes that the big-box business model “presupposes cheap, road-based transportation of both goods and people, and that if we didn’t so subsidize that [model] in our country they wouldn’t be so successful in our country.”

Sprawl, made possible by cars and trucks, pursuing more “stuff” jammed into the “boxes” than anyone would ever need in a lifetime has harmed town centers. “Finally, finally, and finally, maybe this industry will get rid of a lot of excess and bring some sane equilibrium back to supply and demand,” says Robin Lewis with over forty years of strategic operating and consulting experience in the retail and related consumer products industries in his report The Great Retail Demassification—The Death and Diminishment of Malls and Other Big Footprints, adding that “we are now on the edge of witnessing a massive elimination, downsizing, or repurposing of brick-and-mortar stores, and the malls and shopping centers that house them.”

The first AKRF study commissioned by the New Castle Town Board analyzing the competitive effects of retail at Chappaqua Crossing on retail in the hamlets points out that the top ten retail chains in the U.S.—such as Tiffany, Lululemon, Coach, Michael Kors, Select Comfort, True Religion, Vera Bradley and Birks & Mayors—are trending toward smaller footprints averaging 3,000 square feet. (Number one of the ten,—Apple—is the exception, at 8,453 square feet average). “Smaller, more intimate and interesting environments trump massive, overwhelming spaces and choice,” says Lewis.  And it’s not just the luxury nameplates who are pursuing a smaller footprints. “This new retail option,” Lewis says in Part 2 of his “Demassification” piece, “provides quicker and easier physical access for time-pressed consumers; enable the store to better localize and narrow its assortments; and facilitate omnichannel shopping — ordering online and picking up in a more human-scaled, accessible store,” and, much like mom-and-pops, “provide greater personalized experiences and easier access for targeted niche consumer needs,”.and “ ‘Special-just-for-me,’ highly personalized brands beat out publicly displayed badges of luxury.”

So the thinking is that easy, neighborhood shopping can be achieved by inviting chain-type shops—who are downsizing their store count, pursuing a smaller footprint, and opening free-standing stores in local neighborhoods—to our hamlets’ existing inventory of mom-and-pops.  This is the forumla that will draw more people to a critical mass and mix of quality stores and provide a shopping experience where quality chains satisfy certain of our needs while specialty, boutiques and mom-and-pops satisfy others. The combined shopping experiences will more than shore-up our sagging economic problem as we grow an authentic town center serving our cultural, residential and commercial needs while meeting our economic and vitality goals.

Even the spaces that are super-famous are actually intimately scaled.  As Speck notes, “It is often surprising to measure some of America’s favorite and most successful public spaces — New York’s Rockefeller Center, San Antonio’s River Walk, San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square — and discover how small they actually are. Few are much broader than sixty yards across.”  That’s 180 feet—a little more than the 50-yard line.

And where should this healthy mix take place?  In existing town centers, as Westchester County’s Planning Board has explained in its “Westchester 2015” report.

We forget that Westchester County itself has provided sound planning advice for the future. The County Planning Board’s charter states that the county “shall . . . formulate and recommend major development policies . . . with the objective of achieving a physical development of the county that will be orderly, harmonious, economically sound and of attractive appearance….”

Again from Westchester 2025:  “The future of development in Westchester will be found in redevelopment of residential, commercial and industrial space with most new construction located in the county’s downtowns in the largest cities and village centers, especially those with access to a rail station.”

There are fifteen (15) planning polices developed for “Westchester 2025” which include: assuring open space, preserving natural resources, and enhancing transportation corridors.  Heading the county’s list is “Channel Development to Centers,” because, as the report notes, “a healthy balance between economic growth and a sound development depends on directing growth to centers where infrastructure can support growth, where public transportation can be provided efficiently and where redevelopment can enhance economic vitality.”

A logical, sound and defensible planning strategy for New Castle, then, is to focus development in the hamlets of New Castle to serve both the 3000+ households (of the 6,000 total) within a single mile from these hamlet centers as well as to make them destinations for the broader retail catchment area.  This will make the village centers successful public places of enhanced economic vitality for everyone.

As Robin Lewis has noted, “less is more, and quality of lifestyle is desired over big quantities of everything. Smaller, intimate, and interesting environments trump massive, overwhelming space and choice”. Think small!  Think hamlets!

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The Great Retail Demassification—The Death and Diminishment of Malls and Other Big Footprints, Part 1, by Robin Lewis, Forbes, 3/24/14

The Great Retail Demassification—The Death and Diminishment of Malls and Other Big Footprints, Part 2, by Robin Lewis, Forbes, 3/25/14

 

 

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