Retail Businesses That Work in America's Downtowns: Significantly Left to Their Own Resources and Natural Market Forces, Downtowns Have Managed to Partially Weather the Tide of outside Growth

Article excerpt

During the past two decades, HyettPalma has been constantly asked by our local government clients if there is a "formula" for the optimum mix of retail businesses that a downtown should contain. Our answer has always been the same:

* All downtowns are different, which is a good thing, and, as such, each downtown has unique retail potentials that should be determined on a case-by-case basis;

* In order to determine the unique retail potentials of any given downtown, that downtown must be analyzed, its customers and potential customers must be identified and their spending potential must be determined; and

* A specific course of action must be defined, based on solid market research, to chart a realistic course of action to capture the unique potentials of each individual downtown.

These axioms remain valid today. They certainly help us chart realistic courses of action for the downtowns of commmunities we advise.

However, to properly plan for the future, we do need an understanding of the retail mixes typically found in American downtowns. To this end, HyettPalma conducted a purposive sample of 50 of our most recent downtown clients from throughout the United States in communities with less than 50,000 residents.

Based on this national examination of downtown retail mixes, we found that--of the retail businesses in the surveyed downtowns:

* 31 percent offer specialty retail products, such as antiques, art, gifts, novelty items, flowers, jewelry and reading material;

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* 19 percent provide prepared food and drink;

* 14 percent serve a convenience and support role in downtown, such as beauty and barber shops, office supply stores, movie theaters, and dry cleaners;

* 9 percent provide furniture and other home furnishings and accessories;

* 7 percent offer apparel and related accessories, including clothing and shoes for all ages and genders;

* 7 percent consist of automotive related businesses, including car lots, gas service stations, auto parts stores and a few Harley shops;

* 5 percent sell food to take home, such as grocery stores, fish and meat markets and bakeries;

* 4 percent offer entertainment and recreation, such as dance studios, gyms, and bowling alleys;

* 3 percent still offer hardware and home decorating supplies; and

* Only 1 percent continue to offer general variety merchandise. …