Adventures in Retail
- Blog Post by: James Lileks
- October 5, 2009 - 9:59 AM
This story on the Woodbury “lifestyle center” touches on an old favorite topic of mine: too much retail. It was blasphemous during the boom to suggest there was a limit to the number of stores we could build. If you've been through a few economic cycles, you know you're reaching the top when they build another mall next to another mall next to a luxury "upscale" mall that has stores selling "gourmet Elmer's Glue" for the maladjusted kids of the rich, and handmade dog food, each kibble-nugget hand-rolled and dusted with organic saffron. That's the top of the boom. Everyone can see it except the people who lend the money to build these places, and the people who borrow it to buidl them.
Works for a while. Most of the malls were mostly filled. But the stuff that comes at the end of the boom always seems to be the first to suffer - the condos are unfilled, the storefronts are empty, and the Stink of Death keeps the customer away. The Woodbury Lakes place may rebound, but if so I suggest they rebrand the concept. “Lifestyle Center” is the most poorly-named retail concept in the history of capitalistic nomenclature. Perhaps it’s my own bias against the word, but I always wanted to have this conversation with a real estate developer:
What are you building, good sir?
A lifestyle center!
What can I do here?
Uh . . . buy things!
Great. What kind of things?
I can see the appeal of these places in sunny climes. There’s one in Scottsdale I enjoy patronizing; even on a winter’s evening you can sit outside, warm yourself by the fire, enjoy some cider. Very nice. Can’t do that here, if your lifestyle involves the use of all fingers and toes.
The center is also hampered by design issues:
"There's no processional effect" that invites people into the center, said Richard Grones, whose Edina-based Cambridge Commercial Realty specializes in the retail market.The stores also face away from the highway, reducing the center's visual impact for drivers on the interstate. "All you see is rooftops and the garbage bins in the backs of stores," Grones said.
That’s been my impression. I wish the place luck, but I’m not driving across town to shop there. My own local mall has its problems. Behold the grimmest store sign of the Great Recession, so far:
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