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Retail as Town Squares – How retail in the future may change to a model similar to pre-WWII

Internet retail has been cannibalizing traditional retailers, and continues to do so. Retailers need to think of new ways to attract customers.

From BRO reader Tom I. 

This article in The Atlantic is an interesting take on what future retail in America could look like. With Buffalo’s resurgence it would be interesting to discuss how this type of retail experience could manifest itself here. It is already apparent that the malls in this area are approaching this type of retail (mentioned in the article) by including new restaurants and activities (like go-karts).

Earlier, this week provided another such glimpse of the strange future of retail, in which going to a store is just as much about buying things as it is about being in a nice place—an “experience,” if you will. Nordstrom, a day before Apple’s event, announced that it will be opening a Nordstrom Local concept store next month in West Hollywood, in Los Angeles. The store will not stock clothes, or much of anything else. But it will have spa services, tailor, personal stylists, and a bar that serves beer, wine, coffee, and juice.

-The Atlantic

Luckily, downtown Buffalo was built and established (even flourished) before WWII and for sometime after it.  Much of the city is designed in a way that incorporates public spaces, like squares and circles into the street grid.  I wonder if these places could be where people will go in the future to shop and socialize again.  I also wonder if this article could be wrong, and that town squares will not be able to replace the suburban style mall.  

Even HarborCenter had a hard time making retail work in Downtown Buffalo, partially due to the lack of density at Canalside – Modern Nostalgia and Red Siren both closed. Maybe Buffalo’s working version of the Retail Town Square will be the new shopping experience at One Seneca Tower?

The Main Place Mall and closure of Main Street to traffic downtown was designed in a way that would blend urban with suburban shopping. Was it simply an idea ahead of its time or implemented incorrectly?  

Online shopping is certainly having dramatic effects on retail in America, and the recession accelerated much of this effect. I think now would be a good time to further discuss the retail possibilities that the city core could have, especially with the number of new hotels serving out-of-town travelers.

Written by BRO Reader Submission

BRO Reader Submission

We love to hear what the Buffalo community has to say. We offer a space to those who feel that they want to share their stories, without committing to writing ongoing articles. Typically reader submissions are one-offs that contribute to the broader Buffalo conversation.

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  • nuvaux

    Tom’s interpretation of history is clueless.

  • We don’t have anything resembling a “town square” in the city. Whatever we did, it was demolished back during the brutalism days of the 70’s for this so-called “urban renewal”.

    • Randy503

      I disagree. I think the “bones” are still there. Lafayette Square could easily be our town square downtown. The main floors of the Brisbane building, the Hotel Lafayette, the Liberty Building, and the stores lining Main St can easily house retail. The north east corner that is currently a vacant lot could be built up to house retail, and there is still space along Washington Street as well.

      Those buildings that front Lafayette square and the half block or so of streets radiating outward from it could house everything from a larger retail department store to small mom and pops. The Hilton and Lafayette hotels actually add to the mix, since they have restaurants and bars that can keep people there after they done shopping.

      If properly guided by City Hall, this square could be the hub of a lot of retail/restaurants/bars, and actually be a thriving downtown.

      Of course, many people have pined their hopes on bricks and mortar retail stores in the past decade, and I might very well be wrong. Lots of people are. But this square is certainly our best shot.

  • Disqusminiscus

    Other large cities are able to utilize downtown malls in climates which have extreme temperatures in part because they shield shoppers from said extreme weather(in our case snow, cold, and wind) and because such structures are conducive to hyperdensity.

    One of the reasons the main place mall is such a failure is because of not enough people living downtown and the lack of density downtown overall. A downtown mall is part of something more akin to a superblock, and we don’t have the pop or density to support regular downtown blocks let alone superblocks.

  • OldFirstWard

    So instead of tunneling directly to the Boulevard Mall from Eggert Rd. to bring shoppers and riders into the mall where the action is, design a rail service to navigate around the mall by locating the train on the surface of a congested Niagara Falls Blvd. with turns at Sheridan and Maple Rd., and make them walk to the mall from a street platform.