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The traditional downtown appears more popular now than it has been since at least the 1950s, not only in central cities—where an urban renaissance has helped to improve the prospects of the historic commercial core and, increasingly, neighborhood business districts—but also, a bit less expectedly, in the suburbs, where residents and workers crave a similar sort of environment and experience—albeit on a more modest scale.
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With the notable exception of African Americans, who were often limited by the realities of segregation.
According to a 1973 U.S. News & World Report article, Americans of all ages spent more time in shopping centers than anywhere but home and work (or school)—as quoted in America’s Marketplace: The History of Shopping Centers, a 2002 book from the International Council of Shopping Centers written by Nancy Cohen and published by Greenwich Publishing Group.
The author explored this phenomenon in a February 2002 article for Urban Land magazine entitled “Working Class Malls.” The article cited properties like Queens Center, which has long ranked among the 10 highest-grossing malls in the United States on a sales-per-square-foot basis, even though its customer base, like the borough in which it sits, is overwhelmingly nonwhite and moderate income.
While San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square actually opened much earlier, in 1964, and has been credited as one of the country’s first instances of adaptive reuse, Faneuil Hall Marketplace catalyzed the larger festival marketplace trend, with its instant success spurring widespread interest from other cities, resulting in such projects as Baltimore’s Harborplace, New York City’s South Street Seaport, Washington, DC’s Union Station, and many others. The format can also be said to encompass other revitalization schemes that were not explicitly associated with the format yet followed a similar formula, like Denver’s Larimer Square and Seattle’s Pike Place Market.
Although the nuclear family in the decade’s most popular sitcom, The Cosby Show, lived in brownstone Brooklyn, the urban setting was otherwise largely ignored.
Oldenburg introduced his theory in his 1989 book, A Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community, published by Da Capo Press.
One of the most astute observers of these trends was based, ironically enough, in heavily suburbanized Orange County, California: Sadeen Sadeghi was a former surfwear executive who, in the early 1990s, transformed an old night-googles factory on a nondescript arterial road in the shadow of the famed South Coast Plaza into The Lab Anti-Mall.
Yupsters and neo-hipsters are two of the psychographic segments that feature in MJB Consulting’s proprietary lifestyle-segmentation scheme. A tool of analysis that has grown in popularity amidst the continued splintering of the mass market, psychographics assesses both the quantitative data on a given trade area, such as its median household incomes and home values, and qualitative characteristics, such as its prevailing lifestyles, sensibilities, and aspirations, in order to arrive at a more complete and meaningful understanding of its consumer profile.
The “category killer” specializes in a particular category of goods and, with deep selection and discounted prices, is able to dominate (or “kill”) its competitors.
The project credited as the first power center, 280 Metro Center (San Francisco Bay Area), actually opened in 1986, but the format did not spread across the US retail landscape until the 1990s.
The first lifestyle center, The Shops at Saddle Creek, opened in 1987 in suburban Memphis, though the format did not proliferate until the late 1990s.
In many regions of the United States, where the weather can prove challenging at certain times of the year, the embrace of open-air retailing might seem counterintuitive. Indeed, climate control has been an important part of the regional-mall formula since it was introduced in the 1950s. Interestingly, however, local climate seems to have little impact on willingness to patronize Main Street settings. Although hot and humid conditions in the Sun Belt can prove challenging in the summer, that’s not generally a critical season for retailers. Meanwhile, those who live in colder (even snowy) regions paradoxically seem to relish their time outdoors in the winter, and they might be even more eager to take advantage of milder weather when it does return.
When the regional mall first started to spread in the 1950s, the suburbs consisted almost exclusively of white, middle-class, nuclear families who lived in newly built, single-family homes and exhibited remarkably similar tastes and preferences as consumers. Many of these communities, however, have become far more ethnically and socioeconomically diverse in recent decades.
In contrast to the Leave It to Beaver era of the 1950s, there are today the Korean Americans of Palisades Park, as well as the middle-class African Americans of Prince George’s County (outside Washington), the first-generation immigrants of Gwinnett County (Atlanta), and the blue-collar “Reagan Democrats” of Macomb County (Detroit)—to name just a few.
Michael J. Berne
- Island Press/Center for Resource Economics