Author’s Note: Mom + Pop Culture are a couple of real characters. They could be you and me. Or not. Every so often, I eavesdrop on their conversations. Let’s listen in on what they’re saying right now about the common misperception of what empty storefronts signify.
POP CULTURE: Mom, did you see that new empty storefront in the strip mall?
MOM CULTURE: No, Pop. Which shop?
POP: The frozen yogurt place. It wasn’t even there all that long.
MOM: Oh, too bad. Although I never went in once.
POP: It’s a shame that another locally owned store bites the dust.
MOM: Stuff happens. Not as if there aren’t plenty of bigger fro-yo places it had to compete with.
POP: It’s not fair.
MOM: What isn’t? Free enterprise?
POP: I get your point, but as long as we’re talkin’ shop, do we truly need another big-box store and new commercial construction when there are existing storefronts sitting vacant?
MOM: What does one thing have to do with the other, Pop? You need to bone up on your laws of supply and demand and retail economics 101 before spouting off like this. It’s embarrassing.
POP: So educate me, Mom, on why new stores are built when old ones are empty?
MOM: Maybe it’s because times change, consumer habits change, demographics change. Retailing best practices change. Maybe the space is empty because that location is not right anymore. Maybe the landlord wants too much money and there’s no law against that. Then there’s the internet. One retail expert says, “The model of online retailers is winning out. They are more competitive on pricing, they have better selection, and their convenience level is quite high.” No matter what size or where they operate, retailers need to adapt and adjust. “Experiential” is the new buzzword. An existing space may not lend itself to the new shopping experience people demand. The head of a real estate investment firm in Westchester says, “People want a localized, individualized experience no one has had before.”
POP: Well, it doesn’t speak well of our town to see empty storefronts. That’s all I know.
MOM: With all due respect, my darling, that’s not all you know. That’s how little you know. Empty storefronts are not a sign of a weak local economy, especially when developers and big retailers are investing serious money in new construction. Do you know that a local shopping center company executive just said, “I think there’s a healthy streamlining in retail. A lot of the weaker guys are out.” If a weaker guy exits a storefront, it doesn’t make any sense for a well-run retailer to occupy that same space if it doesn’t work for their business model. It’s called a retail footprint and they are not all created equal. It’s survival of the fittest.
POP: Boy, that’s cold.
MOM: No, it’s business. Dollars and cents. Stores don’t put stores out of business. Elected officials don’t put stores out of business. People like you and me put stores out of business when enough of us don’t go there.
POP: Can’t argue there, I must say.
MOM: Pop, before you talk about empty storefronts again, do me a favor.
POP: Sure, Mom.
MOM: Look up online the term “overstored.”
MOM: It doesn’t mean there’s a weak local economy. It doesn’t mean people aren’t spending money. It means there are more stores than necessary. It’s a national trend. Big stores AND little stores. In the first quarter of 2017 alone, nine major retailers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. One analyst calls it “a downward spiral for traditional retailers.” He says there “was too much square footage capacity added in the 1990s and 2000s,” which created a retail bubble, like the housing bubble. Bubbles eventually burst.
POP: Interesting, indeed.
MOM: Another retail developer just told a Westchester seminar that “stores are going to get smaller and there will be less of them going forward.” It’s simple logic that even bricks-and-mortar stores need to have a strong online presence these days, if not a mobile app as well.
POP: Who knew?
MOM: It’s there to find out if someone sitting next to me, mister, wants to do a little less complainin’ and a little more learnin’.
Bruce Apar is chief content officer of Google Partner Agency, Pinpoint Marketing & Design, as well as an actor and a regular contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce the Blog on social media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-275-6887.