Walking around downtown these days, I see hip new places that have replaced the businesses of my youth.
Large retail stores with snack bars, toy and jewelry stores and the like have been replaced by unique dining options, entertainment venues and specialty shops.
I lament the demise of places like Lee’s Record Shop, House of Wheels and Toys, Federal Bakery, and other old favorites, but salute the new places like Boudreaux’s, Club Geek, and other places that today form the foundation downtown.
It’s much better than a few years ago when we tried to put a mall in downtown, which has become a ghost town with sagebrush.
We won’t go back to the first scenario, and hopefully we won’t go back to the second scenario.
“I think Downtown has transformed. It will never go back to what it was 40 years ago,” said Marci Bennett, executive director of the St. Joseph Convention and Visitors Bureau. “And it continues to transform.”
Downtowns were already headed for a multigenerational death spiral, writes Robert Steutville in Public placean online CNU journal.
“Nowhere was this reality more apparent than retail sales, which shifted to suburban malls and big-box stores,” Steutville added.
During this period, city centers lost up to 90% of their retail market share.
The population has also shrunk, especially the middle and wealthy class, but the trend has reversed over the past 20 years. As town centers and adjacent neighborhoods repopulated, their lack of businesses represented a void to be filled, hence the town center we have today.
While America as a whole is grossly oversold, inner cities are undersold, said urban planner and retail expert Robert Gibbs.
“Retailers have saturated the suburbs and the next underserved market is downtown,” he said.
E-commerce and widespread closures of name brand stores like Sears and Payless Shoes have benefited downtowns across the country.
“Yes, there is a demand and a return of retail to downtown. It’s not a fad,” said Lee Sobelv, commercial real estate expert and program specialist with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
As we see the decline of traditional malls, we are seeing the growth of downtown businesses. We have come full circle, it seems.
As Saint Joseph goes, we all go, so both entities need our patronage.
Too many people believe we live in a Podunk town when St. Joe has plenty of restaurants and entertainment venues to offer.