Friday, January 18, 2019

Shopping in Baltimore remains a challenge

There is a lot of irony in that Target and Marshalls should shut their Mondawmin stores. Not that the country wouldn't be hopelessly over-retailed in light of a diminishing demand for brick and mortar stores. Not that big boxes and malls are closing all over the country. The US has about 5 times more retail area per person than Canada or Europe. But Baltimore actually continues to suffer from being under-retailed.
Struggling Mondawmin: The new Planet Fitness won't cater to shopping
needs (Photo: Baltimore Sun)

In spite of a fairly high population density and aggregate purchase power, retail in Baltimore is scarce. Attractive and modern retail can basically only be found at the periphery in places such as Canton Crossing or, in an older less up to date version, out on the historical radials such as Reisterstown Road. A copy of Canton Crossing is planned as Yard 56 in Greektown and a redo of the Northwood Plaza by the same developer is also in a non central location and based on a typical suburban strip center layout with parking in front.

Real urban shopping like at the Gallery Place at the Inner Harbor and the stores of Harbor Esst remains rare, and hardly serves typical daily needs. The shops at the Inner Harbor and along Pratt Street struggle and rarely stick around for long. Even the ubiquitous drugstores don't always stay in the strategic downtown spaces as the closure of the Rite Aid at Howard and Lexington proves. In 2011 the Baltimore SUN was hopeful:
Shuttered Target at Mondawmin (Photo: BBJ)
"Downtown is ripe for additional expansion for retail companies that at one point dismissed coming into the city," said Mark Millman, chief executive officer of retail executive hiring firm Millman Search Group. "You'll continue to see more and more of this all over the country. Retailers are looking at cities closely as major profit areas."
Some retailers are expanding amid the recovery, and for many, urban sites are in high demand. Long after suburban retailers began tapping into urban markets, cities such as Baltimore still find themselves underserved in some areas, experts say. (Baltimore SUN)
Online shopping, robot delivery: Kroger test Phoenix AZ
But in spite of an ongoing recovery since 2011, Baltimore's retail never saw a really convincing wave of retail seeking out downtown as a "major profit area". Large parts of Baltimore continue to have trouble finding a decent full service supermarket and for the popular national chains like Target residents have to travel all the way to Canton, a place much more difficult to reach than Mondawmin Mall with its transit center and subway station. While several "main street" commercial districts such as "the Avenue" in Hampden or Eastern Avenue in Highlandtown see a certain renaissance, it remains difficult to find standard articles like hardware, office supplies, kitchen needs, furniture or toys in the city.
McKenzie market data 2018: A scarcity of useful data

In this complicated situation the historic downtown retail center known as Market Center is trying to define its future. It shouldn't be too hard to support retail with so many new residents in Baltimore's "fastest growing neighborhood" (Downtown Partnership slogan) and the large inner city neighborhoods to the west nearby. But retailers remain skiddish and the local offerings remain very heavy on barber and beauty shops or places selling luggage. That this doesn't have to be this way, has been pointed out by the Urban Land Institute when they were called to provide suggestions for the Westside in 2010. The national experts pointed to Cincinnati and its Over the Rhine area as a good precedent on how to revive an ailing historic retail area. In a visit not too long ago I found a bustling district full of shops and restaurants, mostly local specialty store, not national chains in an area that at the turn of the century looked much like Howard Street.
Retail on Howard Street (Photo: Philipsen)

As I have described in previous blog articles, the Cincinnati turn-around was the result of a big investment initiative in part fueled by  local corporations, an approach that is eyed with suspicion by many local activists. The new Opportunity Zones with their designated federal and state funds may make a difference. Baltimore has certainly designated a record number of those zones. But critics have already pointed out, that via the promised tax credits most of the money will go into the pockets of investors and will not necessarily fuel local entrepreneurs such as storekeepers.

As the national retail scene develops, it may well be that amidst online shopping, robot deliveries and failing malls the small, local, walkable urban storefront with the friendly owner behind the counter providing human based service will be the format that is most likely to survive.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

BBJ: Yard 56 article
Kroger CEO: Harris Teeter acquisition was a preemptive shot at Amazon
Harris Teeter has been expanding across the Baltimore area and its local stores include Locust Point, Canton, Severna Park, Columbia and Ellicott City.

No comments:

Post a Comment