By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – Walk around the downtown when the students are gone and you get a better sense of what the community is up against. Restaurants, coffee shops, bars, boutique shops, but an overall dearth of retail and energy.
For those who like the downtown as it is – I’m not sure they are really seeing what I see. Under utilized space. Vacant storefronts. Declining retail. Underutilization of space.
I know that downtown is the pride of this community, but I wonder how much of that is nostalgia and how much of it is based on everyday experiences.
I think the city recognizes this fact. In creating the downtown plan, they have looked toward public spaces, mixed-use housing to put more people into the downtown and the form-based code.
The downtown clearly needs a facelift. Walk in the downtown you see sparse, single and double story buildings, much of it aging and not in a good way. But in the absence of redevelopment, not sure where the money and investment is going to come from to finance it.
Creating vibrant public spaces. Creating denser mixed use buildings makes a lot of sense. Actually building it is more questionable.
More than that, we need to reinvigorate the retail sector of downtown. That’s tricky. Local retail is expensive. People these days can shop quicker and cheaper online.
But retail is not dead.
As Forbes pointed out in an article from 2018, pre-pandemic, “It may make for intriguing headlines, but physical retail is clearly not dead. Far from it, in fact. But, to be sure, boring, undifferentiated, irrelevant and unremarkable stores are most definitely dead, dying or moving perilously close to the edge of the precipice.”
Instead Forbes argues: “While retail is going through vast disruption causing many stores to close — and quite a few malls to undergo radical transformation or bulldozing — the reality is that, at least in the U.S., shopping in physical stores continues to grow, albeit at a far slower pace than online. An inconvenient truth to those pushing the “retail apocalypse” narrative, physical store openings actually grew by more than 50% year over year. Much of this is driven by the hypergrowth of dollar stores and the off-price channel, but there is also significant growth on the part of decidedly more upscale specialty stores and the move of digitally-native brands like Warby Parker and Bonobos into brick and mortar.”
Following the pandemic, that pattern has become even more enhanced. IN 2020, 12,200 stores in the US closed.
As one article in Medium noted, “analysts believe the repercussions of the pandemic could linger long after it subsides, estimating that roughly one in every 11 stores will close in the next five years.”
The key is a change in shopping culture and rethinking the retail space.
Interaction over transaction.
As the article noted, “many have gotten lazy over the years, allowing their in-store experience to fall behind the times or the needs of its consumer base. Beige stores filled with endless rails of last season’s clothing, terrible music, and long queues won’t cut it anymore.”
Instead, “To remain relevant, retail stores need to focus on interaction over transaction.”
The biggest draw for experience over transaction are the same people who come to our downtown everyday anyway – the students.
The idea is rather than attempting to win -instore customers, use the physical space to generate brand awareness.
What many have found is that, “interaction with their target market was more important than the end transaction, which would likely occur online.”
This was fascinating to read. An article that noted, “10 destination stores that chart new retail territory.”
As I read some of the bungalows and cottages along Third Street.
The article notes, “Online shopping may offer the choice and convenience that physical stores can only dream of, but nothing beats the experience of a great bricks and mortar shop. Around the world, a clutch of concept stores are redefining the retail experience by turning their homes into genuine cultural destinations where people can linger for hours – if not days – at a time.
“In some of the best concept stores, ‘shopping’ is merely incidental. Browsing an exhibition, sitting down for a coffee and putting on a record might seem like a distraction from the task at hand, but they’re part of what keeps us hooked. A true brand immersion will also fuel our digital loyalty too, encouraging us to part with our cash (if the store has an online counterpart).”
All of this got me thinking about way to reinvigorate the retail downtown. Local business is never going to compete with the online national brands for everyday shopping. So instead, we need to reconceptualize the downtown experience.
I keep hearing that Davis wants its Downtown to be a destination – but increasingly its not. While the downtown plan fuses together important concepts, we need to re-think how to draw actual shoppers into the downtown and fortunately there are lots of models out there and Davis is well positioned for some of these kinds of experiences. We just need to re-think how we approach this.