For the past decade, our team at Retail Strategies has partnered with communities across the country to take a proactive approach to retail recruitment, placemaking, and supporting local businesses. COVID-19 has changed the way that retailers can operate, adjusted how consumers purchase goods and services, and created new challenges for communities and their marketplaces.
The Good News
Throughout the U.S., our communities depend on retail and restaurants to provide quality of life, essential amenities that help attract and retain industry, jobs, and sales taxes that fund municipal operations.
The good news is that the retail make-up of most communities in secondary and tertiary markets includes categories that reported year-over-year sales percentage increase during pandemic months such as grocery, general merchandise, fast food and home improvement. Compounded by people staying at home and online sales tax collections, rural communities are faring better than their neighboring major metropolitan neighbors.
As community leaders you have to be forward-thinking and always have a plan. With the multiplying effect of retail’s recent evolution and the impacts of COVID-19, it is imperative that you take these three steps:
There are many signs that our collective efforts to combat COVID-19 are working, however, businesses are not out of the woods yet. It is critical is to be creative and identify ways of supporting the businesses open and operating in your market.
You should begin Strategic Planning for reimagining public spaces (e.g. downtown, retail nodes, interior core) in a safe and economically productive way. Implementing placemaking tactics to the existing environment such as design and streetscape enhancements, tourism opportunities, and policy measures will help businesses thrive. Tools and resources to place in the hands of small business owners, such as training for how to sell online, will be critical for adaptation in this new ever-changing world of e-commerce.
For your community, you want to be the driving force for positive change and coming out of this pandemic stronger than ever. From a retail perspective, closures create an opportunity to maximize properties and recruit businesses that bolster the goods and services offered in the community. This process will involve backfilling vacancies, assisting property owners, and making outreach to targeted businesses to secure interest and potential openings in the community.
Further, if you have a downtown, square, Main Street, or a place in town you’d like to be your entrepreneurial hub – invest in placemaking. National retailers can pay premiums to be on your best intersections and highways, but local entrepreneurs need to occupy spaces in more “rent friendly” areas.
Recruiting new businesses and supporting local businesses is an ongoing effort and a constant commitment. As a local government leader, you need to ensure that your community is investing appropriate time and resources to achieving this goal.
This can include regular updates to your commercial real estate inventory, investing ins sources to understand how your trade area is evolving, taking inventory of need and always know the businesses you need to attract, and developing a process to make your local businesses stronger.
I can guarantee you that many businesses have reviewed your market and said “no” for a reason that you could answer easily. It is important that you take control of your future and drive conversations with businesses that maximize your marketplace. By doing this, you can attract complimentary businesses that do not cannibalize but maximize your marketplace making everyone stronger and creating long-term success.