Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Integrated Retail: Making Downtown a Destination

A number of small communities have discovered the magic of "integrated retail": By intermixing unique local shops with upscale mall stores, a walkable dining district, and weekly farmers market, these towns create downtown environments that become destinations for socializing, shopping and discovering delicious cuisine.

For example, Westfield NJ, a commuter suburb near New York City, concentrates most of its downtown retail onto East Broad Street, Central Avenue, Elm Street, Quimby Street, Prospect Street, and South Avenue. Local specialty shops such as Ahrre's Coffee Roastery, Castle Bootery, The Farmhouse Store, Baron's Drug Store, The Chocolate Bar, and Juxtapose Gallery share the street with national brand stores like Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Chico's, Urban Outfitters, Trader Joe's and Williams-Sonoma. 

The dining opportunities in Westfield are legendary, with menus from all over the world. Some of these include 16 Prospect Wine Bar & Bistro (with live music), Akai Japanese Sushi Lounge, Bovella's Pastry Shop, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Cosimo's Restaurant & Pizzeria, Ferraro's Restaurant, Fujiyama Mam, Hunan Wok III, Limani Seafood Grill, Mojave Grille, Mulberry House Restaurant, Old Havana, Panera, Qdoba Mexican Grill, Rockin' Joe Coffeehouse + Bistro, Splash of Thai, The Office Bar & Grill, Turning Point, Tinga, Tutti Baci Cafe, and Vicki's Diner.

Every Saturday from June through October, 8:30AM-1:30PM, the Westfield Farmers Market sets up its vendor booths in the South Avenue parking lot of the Westfield Train Station. The market offers produce, meats, flowers, prepared foods, coffees, pastas, oils and vinegars, yogurt drinks, honey and wines.

Sarasota FL, is moving forward with the next phase of its "Pineapple Square" downtown shopping concept, which integrates name brand retail into the existing local shopping district. Already in place on Lemon Avenue and Main Street are mall stores such as Sur l'Table, Reasons Shoes, Eileen Fisher, J. McLaughlin, Patchington and Brooks Brothers, with more high-end mall stores to come as more infill buildings are completed in the urban core. 

Local shops include Bohemian Bliss, Elietts on Palm, Encore! & More, Evelyn & Arthur, i tesori, Jackie Z Style Co., Juno & Jove, Lotus Boutique, Michaels on Main, PJ's Boutique, as well as bookshops, art galleries, shoe stores, gift shops, toys, home furnishings, jewelry and pet supplies.

The Sarasota Farmers market, which runs year-round on several blocks of Lemon Avenue and State Street, from 7AM - 1PM, is in its 37th year. It's fully booked with over 70 vendors of produce (including a huge selection of organics), flowers and plants, prepared foods, coffees and teas, soaps, baked goods, vegetarian specialties, honey, meats, cheeses, artisan goods and live music. It's always a dog show at the Sarasota Farmers Market, as patrons strut an astonishing array of breeds along the crowded street to "help" with their shopping.

In Aspen CO, high in the Colorado Rockies, it often seems that expensive "trophy stores" for brands such as Gucci, Prada, Burberry, Frette, Loro Piano, Polo Ralph Lauren, and Moncier outnumber the unique local shops, but there are still many specialty stores on the Cooper and Hyman Avenue malls, East Hopkins Avenue, and connecting streets. Pitkin County Dry Goods, Carl's Pharmacy, Aspen Sports, Aspen Luggage, Heidi Hat, Distractions, and many others.

Well-integrated into the downtown core are many restaurants and cafes, offering a multitude of cuisines, including sushi, Italian, Chinese, French, Japanese, Mexican, American, seafood, and wine bars.

The Aspen Saturday Market, which operates from mid-June to mid-October, 8:30AM - 3PM, offers an enormous array of produce, plants, baked goods, prepared foods, a food court, artisans, live music and a fascinating parade of dogs leading their owners through the busy market streets of East Hopkins, between Hunter and Galena Streets, Hunter, and East Hyman Avenue.

Local merchants may grumble about competition from the farmers markets, but the reality is that all these elements combined--destination name-brand retail, unique local shops, concentrated dining districts, and markets--bring a diverse and growing number of patrons to the downtowns of older small communities such as Westfield NJ, Sarasota FL, and Aspen CO.

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