Monday, June 22, 2009

Retail dead zone? The automobile did it

Where GI Joe's and Good Guys were. Also, not pictured Circuit City empty.

Two empty box stores across one parking area have created what amounts to a retail dead zone in Bellingham. These were parts of chains that went under so maybe it doesn't say anything about local conditions, but these type of chains tend to locate in similar areas. Car oriented development. Also, of course, just more retailing than the economy can sustain.

Meridian Street near Bellis Fair Mall has created a wall of traffic that isn't pleasant to be in. Also not real easy to get across. Yes there are traffic lights, but the intersectionms are large. Not that friendly for bikes or pedestrians, of course, but those type of areas become less drivable also as traffic increases.

So it seems like some areas near Meridian (the main drag) could end up being in a "shadow of the traffic." Areas that are hard for people to cut across traffic streams to get to.

Car oriented retailing spreads out toward the periphery of the area while allowing the center to soften. It can be advantagous to locate right where the traffic first comes into the area. I've heard the term gateway before. Catch them as they are just coming off the freeway, or coming into town. Toward the center of car oriented development, the advantage softens.

With all the stores out there, people are tapped out before they get through the traffic into the center.

This is kind of what happened to downtown Bellingham many years ago when Bellis Fair Mall and other developments along I-5 really got going. Downtown became less accessible, sort of like a dead zone in the center. Back then, Meridian offered more space (for parking) and easier access for people coming into town from a large region.

Well now it seems like some of the central areas in the Meridian vicinity are starting to implode, like the downtown did in years past. Car oriented retailing needs lots of space, of course, but it also seems to seek "gateway" space. Be at the periphery where people are first coming into the area.

Sometimes I hear of threats by box stores to move out of town if they don't get favorable regulatory conditions in city limits. That political drama makes news, but there is also just the tendency to strive for being on the edge; the gateway.

Meanwhile, downtown Bellingham seems to be making quite a comeback. That's partially because there is more to it than just the type of retailing where easy parking is thought of as a prerequisite. Downtown is getting more residences. People don't need to drive here and park, they already live here.

Also some of the vibrancy I notice is people out doing things, not necessarily just shopping. A broader definition of vibrancy. It may not necessarily mean more dollars in the coffers.

In the last few years, I've noticed more residencies coming into the Meridian area as well, but you don't see a lot of people outside of their cars yet. Maybe that will come eventually if more trails and plazas get built.

2 comments:

Robert said...

Now I read that there is a new vocational college going into the old Good Guy's building. A small private college. Interesting. When there is too much space for retailing, other uses can be found. People come to Bellingham from all over for college. It's kind of like an export industry.

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