A recent article from the other Washington touched on a conflict in the urban retail world: shoppers want small independent stores, and creditors want to fund big chains. This is apparent when you look at almost any urban retail space built in the past few decades. You’ll see shallow stores with wide storefronts designed to make sure you don’t miss the store’s presence. But walk through any old section of town and you’ll see skinny storefronts and deep stores designed to fit the maximum number of shops on one street.
What does this do to the pedestrian experience? Walking past 10′ to 20′ storefronts means you pass a new store every few seconds, and constantly have something to look at. Because stores are smaller rents can be much lower, allowing more independent stores. The sheer number of storefronts you pass on a typical trip means you have much more variety in shopping options.
In short, the old style is a hands-down win for pedestrians. Everyone knows this – that’s one reason old retail areas in cities and towns across America have far more character than the new ones. But they just don’t build them like they used to.
So how do we return to the skinny storefront days? We could simply legislate it (new buildings shall have storefronts with a maximum width of…), or encourage it (height bonuses?). I’m not sure just refusing to tear down old buildings is the best solution, but that’s an option too. Any other ideas?