Creating successful retail streets

The basic concepts and tools to create a successful retail street.

A quality retail street is a community amenity that provides value year round but is especially active during the holiday shopping season. A market or retail street is an area small in size, often only one or two blocks long, which has a high density of retailers. Market streets typically serve the surrounding neighborhoods but larger ones can be destinations for larger areas.

Successful retail streets are created through a combination of form and activity. When both are present a quality place is created. If one is lacking the street suffers. The built form for a successful retail street is one we see often in older communities. Buildings set up to the right of way with no setbacks and no side yard separation. Parking is in the rear and available on the street. Sidewalks are wide and the buildings are tall enough to create a sense of enclosure.

The components of a managed street address more place based elements. There should be a merchants association or downtown association to manage the street. They would serve as a single point of contact for information or programming. Retail streets need to be clean and safe. Residents and visitors should feel comfortable there at any time. Retail streets need to be anchored by a civic or cultural presence that brings people to the street. Retail streets need a champion to invest in the street either through a major development project or streetscape improvements. Retailers are more willing to invest when they see others doing so. There needs to be a mix of retail offerings such as neighborhood goods and services as well as food and beverage or household goods. The street has to have a walkable street life with sidewalk cafes. There should be streetlights for active night use and shade trees for summer comfort. It should also have a brand or place based image, a sense of there-ness. Shoppers are more likely to return if there is a sense of place.

The concepts discussed above are merely a starting point for creating successful retail streets. For more detailed discussion of retail streets please consider attending the Michigan Citizen Planner webinar Dec. 17 hosted by Michigan State University Extension.

For more information on planning and retail streets in your community, contact a Michigan State University Extension Land Use educator.

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