Einstein Bros Bagels recently left downtown Provo for “The Corner,” the development on the corner of University Ave and Bulldog Blvd. It’s a surprising move because downtown is walkable, busy and charming, while The Corner is the precisely the opposite.
I think we have to assume that the move was precipitated by economics. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, so I can’t imagine the restaurant would have moved if it was raking in cash while on Center Street.
But in any case, the move offers a chance to compare the economic advantages of a walkable location with those of a drivable location. First, the two pictures below show the store’s old location:
It goes without saying that this is a fairly charming building; many people went there just for the setting. It also has a walk score of 82, or “very walkable,” and is more or less surrounded on all sides by office buildings and, after that, houses and apartments.
The next pictures show the new location, about 12 blocks north, on the corner of University Ave and Bulldog Blvd.
By the conventional wisdom, this location should be perfect. Both Bulldog and University are majors streets with a lot of vehicle traffic. For what it’s worth, this location is also technically “very walkable,” with a score of 74.
But those walk scores don’t really capture the real-world situation in both locations. Center Street has a low speed limit, wide sidewalks, and is tree lined. The beautiful old buildings aside, it’s a fairly pleasant place to walk.
The Corner, on the other hand, is a nightmare to walk around. The satellite image below illustrates how it’s surrounded by wide, high speed limit streets, parking lots, and has narrower and more exposed sidewalks. So while there are sufficient amenities in the area to walk, the intersection is really designed for cars.
Ironically, Einstein’s new location isn’t actually easy to get to by car either. Despite the low traffic in the satellite image, University Ave is often clogged with cars, making it difficult to get in and out of the parking lot. And though the store has more dedicated spaces now than it did in downtown, there is overall less parking available to customers.
There are a few things that could redeem this location. One is the high school, which is just barely visible in the bottom left corner of the satellite image. Provo High students can leave school for lunch, so it’s possible that they’re the new target demographic.
There’s also a fair amount of BYU housing in the area, though I think its effect will be negligible: all of the student apartment complexes lie north of Bulldog, meaning students would have to cross a busy street to get to Einstein’s.
And then there’s the fact that The Corner’s previous tenants have uniformly gone out of business.
Einstein’s is a chain, of course, and so maybe it’s fitting that it chose a new location that seems market researched but also counterintuitive. But walking around both the old and new sites it’s clear that one was designed for people and cars, while the other was not. Now we just have to wait and see what happens.