In the last two years, a number of restaurants, business services and retailers have opened, or announced plans to open, downtown. Restaurants include Chop-Chop, WJ Morrissey’s, Chow Chocolate, SeaBar, Andiamo!, and coffee purveyors Tim Hortons and Dunkin Donuts. Retailers include New Era Cap, Get Dressed, Jenny Shop and Marcell by Chaybeen. New businesses occupying ground-floor space include Avalon Copy Center, SEFCU credit union, Hair-2-Go Naturally, Document Advantage, and Fix Day Spa. There is talk of another retailer heading to Ellicott Commons and a new coffee shop coming to the east side of downtown. Due to development of downtown housing, retail is back!
Not so fast says one of downtown’s busiest commercial realtors.
“I don’t think housing has done anything directly to spur downtown retail,” says Chris Malachowski of Hunt Commercial Real Estate. Rather, he says, there is a new sense of optimism encouraging businesses and entrepreneurs to open downtown.
“Downtown residential has helped, but there is no correlation yet,” says Malachowski. “The numbers are not there.”
Demographics drive retail. A strong, dense residential base will create the critical mass to support a robust retail scene.
Six hundred lofts and apartments have opened downtown in recent years with hundreds more including condos being planned. But thousands of units are needed.
“We still don’t have the chains yet,” says Malachowski. “When the chain stores move in, that will be a sign of the market shifting.”
The existing downtown market remains relatively untapped. Downtown workers are looking to eat and spend money, downtown events draw big numbers, and the number of folks calling downtown ‘home’ is increasing. The new stores and businesses are a good sign, and if successful, will encourage others. Bass Pro and Canalside will change the dynamic of downtown retail as well.
“The pervasive negative attitude is lifting,” says Malachowski. “Retail will pick up.”