Downtown revitalization

These past few years, there has been a push to rejuvenate the downtown areas of many cities. It seems to be a frequent topic in the local newspapers.

I feel one key component is always left out when they discuss downtown revitalization: hours of operation. One of the reasons I hate the 9:00-5:30 shift is that nothing is open before work, and nothing is open after work, except for the big box and chain stores. Now, I don’t work those hours, so I can shop downtown if I want to (second shift is by far my favorite, if I have to work anyway). But many people who live in the cities do work those hours. I would even dare say that most people in cities do, unless they work a manufacturing job, at a big box store, or work in a hospital.

If the downtowns are ever going to be brought back to life, the stores need to be open at times that are convenient for people who work—you know, the types that are actually likely to have money to spend at the stores! :smack: Until they realize this, then people will continue to run their errands at the big box, national chains, because those places are open when they have time to shop.

I’m not sure how things work in Main but all of the revitalized downtowns in Colorado have hours after work. The closest downtown to me has most of their shops closing at 7 pm. My distillery is open until 10 Thursday through Saturday. Of course I haven’t seen a downtown revitalization fail so that could be the difference.

Where I live in Maine, the only downtown places open after 5:00 are bars and restaurants. Some may go as late as 6:00 in bigger cities like Bangor and Portland. The point is, if you work the day shift, you don’t have much time to spend downtown after work; so if you need anything on a work-day, it’s off to the big box. If you work on the outskirts, by the time you actually get downtown, everything will be closed anyway.

I just can’t imagine that unless all of the business downtown are focused on b2b. If they’re not going out of business then what they’re doing probably works. My initial guess is that most people are doing their shopping in your downtowns on the weekends. So the week is about prepping for the weekends and doing b2b work.

I live in Denver so the times are probably shifted a little later due to the population size but even when I was down in Durango the local grocery store was open from 8 to 8.

What kind of stores are you talking about closing early forcing you to go to a big box store? Most of the local stores I shop at don’t have a big box alternative.

If interested in downtown revitalization, you have to look at Chicago. I’ve lived here all my life. Back in the 60s-70s, the loop shut down at 6 p.m., and was a kinda scary ghost town after. They’ve been building residential downtown and nearby since at least the early 90s. The housing was followed by supermarkets, hardware stores, etc. Really a success story. And striking, when you compare it to a city that hasn’t had such ongoing, continuous revitalization.

Small town & small city downtown revitalization is very different from big city downtown revitalization.

The small town / small city problem is more than just operating hours, though the OP is right that that’s a big factor.

Another is there simply isn’t the critical mass of people to keep specialty stores open. There’s enough people to support 2 restaurants, not 12. But with just two restuarants there’s not the variety that’ll have you going very often. With 12 you could eat dinner downtown every night of the year & not get bored. Assuming you can afford that habit.

In almost all cases small towns are not as full of highly paid people as big cities. So a low paid office worker in a small town small business driving 10 minutes to the outskirts of Portsmouth ME to hit Walmart & save 50% makes a lot more sense than it does for a high paid office worker in a big corporate office in Chicago to drive an hour to the nearest suburbia to save the same 50% on the same blender or whatever.

Last of all, big city people are frivolous spenders. The city runs on spending and we all do it to excess. Small towns run on frugality. Everybody pinches pennies. And is proud of it. B2C retail really struggles in that environment.

The most troubled urban revitalization projects that I’ve seen are ones that are fundamentally uncomfortable with the “urban” part.

You can’t fuel urban revitalization solely by bringing people into the suburbs. And you especially aren’t going to get anywhere by repackaging the suburbs and trying to convince people that they want to trek across town and deal with parking to eat at the Cheesecake Factory.

There needs to be a strong foundation of people living in a city in order for it to work. And there need to be appropriate services for those people. One thing I’ve seen again and again is that a city direct their energy to things planned to draw in the suburbanites, at the expense of development designed for the people living in the city. These things are immediately swamped by bored teenager, and just as quickly shut down to avoid scaring the suburbanites.

Of course, with nothing new for the bored teenagers to do, they immediately flood the next thing that the city planners come up with.

You have to help the people in the city make a vibrant community first, then you can try to draw people in. You can’t skip the first step.

That was genius. Very perceptive.

As you say, so often they try to create what amounts to an urban tourist attraction aimed at pulling in local suburbanites, not true out-of-town tourists. Which doesn’t attract either, but does attract the local teen crowd. The death spiral is quick and certain.

Urban revitalization is inherently small scale. Because urban is actually small scale. e.g. San Francisco may be one city, but it’s really 100 vibrant mixed-use neighborhoods combining housing & small-scale retail doorway by doorway. And it’s real retail, selling the daily necessities of life. Not trendy trinketry for visitors or “gifting.” You can live a big hunk of a whole month within 3 blocks of your front door. And dense transport exists to take clean you across town (8 whole miles across!) promptly & fairy time-efficiently.

Yes, SF has its tourist zones. But the rest of the highly vital urban areas of SF don’t need (or much want) tourists.

You revitalize by refreshing a building or three and subsidizing the new tenants until you get a critical mass of people living & buying there. Not by bulldozing 8 adjacent blocks & putting up a suburban style “destination mall” with inadequate parking filled with national chain stores & franchised corporate food.

The last older gentrified urban area I lived in had a citizens / shop-owners coop group. The one policy they insisted on was absolutely no franchises of any kind were allowed in the neighborhood. They couldn’t legally prevent it, but they could make it clear that all the local folks the franchise wanted as patrons would instead picket and boycott the place until it closed. It worked great.

That may work great in San Fransisco, in yuppie neighborhoods where the residents have more dogs than children.
In other cities, probably not so great.
More working people eat lunch at McDonald’s than a sushi bar.

But you are right about one thing–downtown revitalization depends on people living there, not people who live elsewhere and come downtown for an hour.

I live in a very suburban city. We don’t have anything urban to revitalize, but every ten years or so, the city council will decide to study the idea of building “a downtown.” The last iteration of this plan was to put some strip malls on a dead-end road behind the Walmart. Not even one of those open-air mall “town center” things. Just some strip malls and big box retailers surrounding a giant parking lot dotted by a couple of standalone fast-fooderies. It was proudly announced as the “new downtown” that would be the heart of the city. On a dead-end road behind Walmart, with nobody actually living there.

Agree completely. Hence my comment about real retail, not boutiques that are mostly what I call “retail museums”; i.e. locals walk through once to look at the goodies when the store first opens and then next visit after that address changes hands to the next boutique that’ll fail the same way.

As applied to food the idea is a small one-off deli works just as well as a Subway franchise. A Mom & Pop diner & maybe a food truck substitutes for McDs. A small corner market substitutes for a 7-11. Etc. Yes, there will be an incremental price increase. But the belief is the food is better & the local ambience is definitely better.

As you say, it takes all kinds to make a country. I’m not a city snob; I’ve lived suburban most of my life and in some sense I do now. It’s just unusually dense walkable suburban.

One part of “downtown revitalization” that has deservedly been disappearing in recent years is the pedestrian mall, where numerous streets are shut to vehicular traffic.

While this occasionally works (Charlottesville, VA has one that is busy, at least on weekends), more often than not they discourage shoppers, particularly those who live outside the area.

As multiple posters have noted, you need a certain density of people living in the downtown area to make it a thriving place. Having policies that encourage outsiders to visit (including free or low-cost parking and not making it difficult to navigate the area) helps.