Is there a natural retail development life-cycle?

Growing up in the age that birthed the present car-centric urban landscape, I observed how the suburban shopping mall facilitated the going-out-of-business sales of medium-sized, typically family-owned, retail stores in downtown Lincoln.  

Today, over the course of 37 years, the downtown and Haymarket of Lincoln is vibrant with specialty shops, full- and quick-service restaurants, entertainment, and mixed-use residential and office space.  More development is on the horizon.  The co-habitation of malls and central business district shops is correlated to Lincoln's population growth, diversity in that population, and general economic prosperity.

Farm-dependent small towns continue to face population out-migration as people move to medium- and large-size cities.

Farm-dependent small towns continue to face population out-migration as people move to medium- and large-size cities.

Most U.S. cities are experiencing an urban development renaissance.  If not now, soon.  The attributes relate to the demographic shifts.  The recent Urban Land Institute survey, America in 2013offers the clearest picture of the influence these shifts will have on retail development, specifically; urban planning, zoning, and economic development, generally.

 Notable findings excerpted from America in 2013 , a survey of 1,202 adults:

  • 87% are somewhat or very satisfied with the quality of life in their community
  • 77% drive daily but big-city dwellers walk the most -- 39% daily and another 20% at least once per week
  • 66% own their own home, yet some of the fastest growing demographic segments are predominantly renters 
  • 62% of the Generation Y members prefer neighborhoods close to shops, restaurants, and offices; 53% overall
  • 59% prefer shorter commute times and a smaller home

The urban development life cycle is in the spring seed-planting stage.  Mixed-use -- niche shops, restaurants, grocers, farmers markets, offices and residential accommodations -- and pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods or "communities" are being built with a much smaller geographic-ecological footprint.  As a consequence, retail ecosystems will undergo dramatic change over the course of the next generation.

Retail Ecosystem Life Cycle

There is a retail ecosystem life cycle.  In development parlance, urban "infill" is the re-purposing of retail and commercial spaces.

My wife is big into re-purposing.  We go to farm-estate auctions where she will buy an item originally used to store a blacksmith's tools.  That turn-of-the-20th Century object now becomes a beautiful flower planter that adds color to our back deck.

Viewed holistically, retail spaces are born, develop, mature, and re-born with each inter-generational shift in demographic, cultural, consumer, and technological attributes.  Downtown Lincoln, like others across the U.S., originally fulfilled the purpose of a transaction business economy.

Now, a more youthful, culturally-diverse, and entrepreneurial population is re-purposing urban spaces.  Their values, life styles, choices for work, and attitudes are adding vibrancy, energy, and color to our collective palate of experiences.

This is a leading-edge time in the natural transformation of our spatial habitat for the next generation. 

 What an exciting opportunity to be involved in the retail, community, and economic development life cycle.

Jerry L. Hoffman

Hoffman Strategy Group LLC, 4424 Hallcliffe Road, Lincoln, NE, 68516, United States

Jerry L. Hoffman is owner of Hoffman Strategy Group LLC, a firm nationally known for strategic development, economic analysis, and market location consultancy.