by David Stanowski
05 March 2008
This article originally appeared in the Galveston County Daily News on 05 March 2008. The text version of the article appears below.
When I published my articles on local retail sales, no one was shocked that sales were below par, but many were surprised at just how bad they really were. The obvious question many asked was; "Why?" After several weeks of research, at least part of the answer is now clear.
Since I do not pretend to be an expert on the retail market, I went looking for an expert who had a philosophy, and approach similar to mine. Robert Gibbs is an internationally renowned retail consultant who realizes that for historic downtowns to be successful, they must be guided by retail experts, and NOT by urban planners. Planners can preserve these areas, and make them look good, but they often make changes that greatly hinder the flow of commerce. Gibbs understands that without profits, downtowns will not survive no matter how good they look!
The following suggestions for downtown Galveston are based on what I have mined from the work Gibbs did in other cities.
On-street parking must be rationed with parking meters, so that it is used primarily by shoppers. Modern parking meters can eliminate much of the frustration customers have with parking fees.
To achieve the ideal retail mix, research must be done to determine what stores can be supported.
Downtown shopping areas need a strategy to implement the right mix of shops. They must have more than 200,000 square feet of retail space, including at least one anchor, to become a shopping "destination".
Locals versus tourists:
Most downtowns are successful because they feature stores where the locals will shop on a day-to-day basis.
70-75% of all sales are now made after 5:30 pm, and on Sundays. Downtown shops MUST keep these hours if they are going to succeed.
Chain stores versus independents:
Typically, downtowns will not succeed without at least 40-60% chain stores.
Downtowns need to be very clean, well lit, and have a police presence to eliminate panhandling, vagrancy, loitering, and skateboarding.
The major chains insist on uniformity and predictability in store fronts, modern signage, lighting, and building design; and look for cities that will enforce those standards.
Business Improvement Districts:
There is little chance that these changes can be implemented without a structure called a Business Improvement District to manage the process. With a BID, downtown stores can achieve sales close to those of the best malls!
Downtown Galveston currently finds itself in a very difficult position. The "modern retailing" concepts that Gibbs suggests using should have been implemented years ago, so what ever is done now will be playing catch up.
With the very difficult economic conditions facing downtown Galveston, it is probably at a tipping point. Without some bold action it may be doomed to a long decline. On the other hand, if the bad news does finally motivate major changes, downtown Galveston could start building a shopping district that enjoys increased sales, even as the country slides into recession.
The clock is ticking!
Also see Downtown Galveston: Under New Management?
For more information on the Galveston Economy:
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