Think like a shopping mall

Milwaukee Avenue vs. shopping mall: compare and contrast

Previously, in When does a window become a wall?, I said that Milwaukee Avenue businesses could benefit from thinking like a shopping mall. Thinking of a retail area as a shopping mall is another “Duh!” revelation courtesy of an ICSC roundtable, though the idea is perhaps first attributable to developer James Rouse.

Since the concept as we know it was introduced some 50 years ago, the shopping center has been well-studied and well-crafted as a business. Shopping center managers pay attention to management and maintenance, tenant mix and location, storefront design and display, promotion, mall ambiance and customer relationships. With a shopping mall under single ownership, these are all things under their control.

But Milwaukee Avenue north of Logan Square proper is a mix of buildings owned by various property owners competing for tenants and rents. At most, the property owners and individual businesses accept responsibility for management and maintenance of their individual properties and tenant spaces, without regard to how the buildings and businesses can work together as a whole, with the sum being greater than its parts.

Milwaukee Avenue businesses don’t have a huge built-in customer base like downtown office buildings or the notoriety of destination big-box stores. They are more like shopping mall tenants (excepting anchor tenants) with narrow storefronts. They count on people enjoying the experience of walking through the mall along the street and being enticed into their stores. They can mutually benefit from each other’s shoppers. And they can mutually benefit from combining their resources to give attention to maintenance, promotions and ambiance.

Promotions and special events

Shopping center eventFor example, shopping malls regularly hold special events in the common areas of the mall. Go to any shopping center website and you will find a page on “events.” These are special promotional events that bring people into the mall to the street with the hope and expectation that they will also shop at the stores.

Several years ago, just south of Logan Square proper, Redmoon Theater (when it was still in residence in Logan Square) put on an annual All Hallows’ Eve spectacular that drew thousands of people to Logan Square from both inside and outside the community. For area restaurants, and businesses savvy enough to stay open late, this was their biggest night of the year. For many people from outside the community, this was their first experience of Logan Square and what the community had to offer.

If Milwaukee Avenue businesses and property owners would get together and think like a shopping mall, they too could bring people from outside the community and introduce them to what the community had to offer, and boost their sales in the process.

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One Response to Think like a shopping mall

  1. This is the whole point of the Main Street approach, that marketing a commercial district is different from marketing individual businesses, and that you need to involve nonmerchants, because merchants might not have the full skill set (nor time) necessary to market a commercial district.

    You might also find some of the ULI ten steps reports interesting:

    # Ten Steps for Developing Successful Town Centers
    # Ten Steps for Rebuilding Neighborhood Retail
    # Ten Steps for Rethinking the Mall

    They also have some good ones on suburban districts, but the general points are still relevant.

    The first three are linked in the right sidebar of my blog.

    ALSO, read Milder’s report on business recruitment. And Seidman’s maybe on urban commercial district revitalization.

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