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blogpost – storefronts

Escaping to my favorite bookstore this weekend, I discovered and brought home an expertly published and understated collection of New York storefronts. If you’ve seen my own slide collection, you’ll know that downtown storefronts and I have shared mutual interests for a long time.

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The book takes the premise that the storefront is disappearing, that it’s a staple of the past that is going away, removing its colors and character from the life of the city when it goes.

I mostly don’t believe in trends or predictions, except at an eschatological scale. I barely believe in statistics. But I do know where I like to spend money when I have it, and I know what my clients are asking me to draw, and that makes me think of what I want to draw and how I might find more clients. Maybe that’s trend analysis: if so, I don’t think the storefronts are going away. In fact, I think it’s time to bring them back.

We’re currently looking at revitalizing an urban street corner. The existing retail building is in a neighborhood between other neighborhoods. It’s been unable to support businesses as long as I’ve known it. This inbetween-neighborhood is presently seeing new residential growth, it’s poised to see explosive growth, and we think the timing is right for this building to try again.


The first move we’re making is to the storefronts: we’re making them smaller. Micro-retail: I learned that moniker from a local developer, but the Murrays’ book has proved the point that small is normal, it’s not an exception. Small means accessible, viable, and sustainable. Storefronts have to be smaller. The present demand for storefronts is only for small. Small storefronts make new business possible.

The storefront is function in triplicate. It is simultaneous entry, daylighting, and advertisement. In this rectangle of street frontage, the shop owner represents everything behind the glass. A shop owner’s competition might be to the from across town or on the web, but is mostly in collaboration with the shop owner next door: will that pedestrian come in my door or yours? Storefronts are contagious and symbiotic. The success of one will encourage the shops around it, and the dilapidation of one will wholly prevent neighboring leases.

However, storefronts are also commitments to place. That’s what makes developers nervous. Tenants want short terms, in case things don’t work out. Local residents may tend to be renters so the data is variable. Restaurant buzz is for food trucks and sidewalk venders instead of brick and mortar. Business can be done in the home, and retail can be shipped from anywhere.

Let me counter that this is precisely why micro-retail works. Small spaces can be shorter term lease because turn-over can be quicker with less modification. Transient neighborhoods maintain a critical mass of active residents, meaning that the retail stays fresh to renewing customers. Restaurants can be smaller, sending their trucks as missionaries to other towns. Business can’t actually be done in the home (have you tried it with kids?) And, retail sales can be shipped out of a small space, keeping stock clean, insurable, and updated.

I remember being thrilled to discover my favorite internet camera store in Tribeca, crammed full of product, even though I could get better service from their website. I love knowing that Holly Aiken’s purses are made on my street and sold all over the world. And I love thinking that by hanging my shingle out [googlemaps,+raleigh,+nc&hnear=19+W+Hargett+St,+Raleigh,+Wake,+North+Carolina+27601&gl=us&t=w&z=16&vpsrc=0&output=embed&s=AARTsJp56EajYksz3JXgNCwT3LJnGsqqAQ]

I can be discovered from somewhere else.

Andy Osterlund AIA | LEED AP
Andrew Osterlund, Architect, PLLC
19 W Hargett Street, Suite 700-A | Raleigh, NC 27601
(919) 889 6823 | | TWITTER: aoarch

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