Retail = restaurants in 2013

Findlay Market in Cincinnati, always a great place to buy food

It’s not just you: nationwide, what’s opening on Main Street is pretty much only restaurants. To quantify this hunch, retail consultancy Terranomics compiled expansion plans from numerous chains and found:

40% of new retail unit openings will be restaurants… there really are not an enormous number of options out there for landlords looking to backfill smaller shop spaces… There is only one segment of the market where we are seeing aggressive growth plans from inline users and that is the restaurant sector… As e-commerce increasingly competes with the bricks-and-mortar retail landscape, shopping centers will find themselves insulated against those technology driven shifts by beefing up dining and entertaining options that do not compete with the internet.

Yes, we’d all love to be able to walk to the corner and buy some bolts from a corner hardware store, or socks from an apparel shop, but let’s face it: not enough of us do that often enough to sustain very many such businesses, particularly in areas that don’t have enough foot traffic to guarantee significant cross-shopping. Such uses will increasingly congregate within metropolitan subcenters — probably focused on today’s fortress malls or midtown destinations — so there will be winners and losers among retail nodes. At least everyone will have someplace to eat, though.

(BTW, connectivity to those subcenters will be necessary from ever-wider catchment areas. This will require rapid transit, not just walk accelerators like streetcars or bikeshare, in order to connect neighborhoods to retail focal points.)

What will those centers look like? A new ULI report by Leanne Lachman and Deborah Brett (complete with a cover image of a yarn-happy hipster using Square to buy a single-speed cruiser bike) suggests the following tenant mix to keep a lifestyle center — a format designed around Boomer women — relevant to Millennials. I’ll stifle my giggles.

  • a broader choice of eateries;
  • apparel brands favored by Gen Y (such as J. Crew, Old Navy, Forever 21,
    H&M, Zara);
  • a gym;
  • hair/blow-dry salons;
  • Trader Joe’s and green grocers;
  • a bike shop;
  • a pet store and/or a dog run; or
  • uniquely local offerings.

Third places are surprisingly important, with restaurants nearly rivaling homes as gathering locations:

Favorite places to get together with friends (pick three)
At home—my place or theirs 66%
At a restaurant 59%
At a bar 30%
At a shopping center 28%
At a coffee shop 22%
At a park/the beach 20%

(There’s also this amusing mental image: “Hispanics’ propensity to go out for weekend brunch is especially notable. Brunch is also more popular in the South, where 20 percent go weekly, and among downtown residents, with one-third saying they go for brunch each weekend.”)