Sunday, December 13, 2009

Business Lexington and Urban Grocers

I am glad to see that Business Lexington has posted a link to the story about Urban Grocers from the New Urban News. I am even more thrilled that the first comments come from Phil Holoubek, one of the main players in attracting such an entity to Lexington. Mr Holoubek cites the three reasons given as to why the grocers have rejected the locations so far proposed to them.

His number one reason is the income levels of the population around downtown. This is and has been a problem since Lexington began growing in the mid '50, that is the 1850s. Those Lexingtonians with money, bought and built on what were called the "out" lots of the original town plat. They moved away from the squalor and congestion of the, then, "inner" city. This also happened on the south side of town on, estates known as Aylesford and Woodland.

These home places attracted other thriving businessmen as they were developed as subdivisions in the 19th century. And then gave way to lower and lower income levels as the wealthy and thriving businessmen continued to go farther and farther out of downtown. The households were replaced by offices, apartments and even a pair of growing universities that went along with an expanding downtown. All of this brought a decline in income despite the few pockets of upper income residents that remain.

My solution to this would require a change of attitude in both the retailers and the urban shoppers. One cannot come without the other.

A downtown resident and shopper should realize that he/she does not need to purchase everything at one store, or at the same time. One also need not shop for the entire week at this one time. One stop shopping is a myth that was told by the strip shopping center developers, expanded upon by the mall developers and then the"big box" retail developers.(This trend is slowly reversing itself with the rise of "lifestyle centers")

Downtown retailers should return to the style of having a multitude of storefronts and each having a separate speciality niche. That is not to say that someone like Kroger could not have a location downtown, but try to envision one of their Marketplace models where each section would have an individual outside entrance. All deliveries could be made from the rear and parking(should it be needed) as a garage level above the main retail level. A few levels of residential apartments/condos above that(to insulate them from street level noise) and you have built in demand with convenience. Two hundred and fifty thousand square foot footprint and a whole new way of living for Lexington's downtown dwellers.

The previous solution may also play a part in the second of the retailers reasons, the lack of rooftops( i.e. dwelling units). The Lex is currently building a model that could go a long way toward proving, or disproving, the above solution. Their residential concentration and that of others nearby, along with the planned residential of the Bolivar extension(aka. Newtown Pike), despite being mainly student population, may support an urban grocery.

The third, and last, reason is certainly one whose time has come. It may have been a mistake to make them a one way couplet in the first place, but the handwriting has been on the wall for a while. In that they were the last to be made one way streets, I fear that they will also be the last to revert back.

Mr Holoubek also mentions his collaborations with Steve Austin and the thoughts they have on other cities. Perhaps it would be nice to sit down with them some time and pick their brains for a while. But that is a thought for another day.

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