the urban prospector

Searching for Golden Opportunities in America's Cities

Small Storefronts Result in Resilient Retail

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This shop is the result of a combination of two pre-existing retail spaces. If this store falls on hard times, it can shrink into one half of the space leaving another small storefront available for a new tenant.

This shop is the result of a combination of two pre-existing retail spaces (notice the structural support running down the middle of the store). If this store falls on hard times, it can shrink into one half of the space leaving another small storefront available for a new tenant.

With the current recovery and reurbanization of the US, there is a lot of construction in old industrial cities and suburbs that are looking to be more dense and walkable. As can be seen in places like Jersey City, the retail component of these buildings often involves larger spaces. This poses a challenge because it sets a higher threshold that a business has to cross before it can afford to rent the space. It is much cheaper to rent 500 square feet than 1000 square feet. There are two problems that result from this. First, there is a smaller pool of businesses that can afford to rent such a place. Typically these are larger more established companies and often are larger chains. Secondly, these larger spaces make it more difficult for a new company to get a foothold in the market. If every space is larger and thus more expensive than a company needs or can afford, it is unlikely that company will be able to grow. This system is inherently fragile. If larger companies go out of business or simply aren’t numerous enough, these spaces will stay vacant. Certainly the property manager could lower rents, but they may have to face significant drops before any new company can afford to move in. Even if that does work, a signal will be sent to the market that the location cannot generate the sort of rents that justify further development. There is a solution to this problem, and it involves returning to traditional development patterns. In this case, the essential is a 10 to 20 foot wide storefront (for the purposes of this post, I will be using a 15 foot wide storefront). If you place two 15 foot wide stores next to each other, they can share an entrance way yet have their own doors. Assuming the stores are 30 feet deep, this would create two stores with 435 square feet each. 15 Foot Storefronts-02 Perhaps one of the stores does really well while the other flounders and vacates. Simply removing the dividing wall will allow the successful business expand and the entire retail space to remain occupied. Now it would have 870 square feet to work with. 15 Foot Storefronts-01   Over 150 feet of building space, there would be 10 retail spaces. That would be 10 small stores at 435 square feet each. Over this 150 feet, there are 5 individual entranceways and 10 doors. 15 Foot Storefronts-03   There are a several options for store expansion that this design permits.

15 Foot Storefronts-04

Here the store removed the wall in the center of the module.

15 Foot Storefronts-05

Here the store expanded into the adjacent module resulting in a store with 762 square feet and one with 543 square feet.

15 Foot Storefronts-06

Here a very successful business has expanded into the full module as well as into the two adjacent modules. This creates one store that is 1502 square feet and two that are 543 square feet.

The expansions of the businesses in these different scenarios was accomplished without removing any doorways from active use along the street. This would still be a very vibrant shopping area even with the one large business occupying 1500 feet. This building style allows businesses to expand and contract depending on their success in the market. When they shrink, small spaces become available for new businesses. The flexibility provided here will ensure that retail spaces remain occupied despite changes in the market. As redevelopment moves into our urban cities and urbanizing suburbs, we need to return to this traditional design to ensure that our cities are able to adjust through the decades.

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