Shopping in Downtown

Downtown Provo currently is filled with some of the best restaurants and entertainment venues in Utah. It has some of the coolest, most historically valuable architecture in the region. And overall, it’s generally a charming place to be.

But downtown doesn’t have a lot of retail. Yes, there are some great stores here and there, but the area isn’t on many people’s radar as a major shopping destination. At least not yet.

Today, Richard Florida wrote about the resurgence of American downtowns as shopping destinations. His point was that just as major retailers fled to malls in the 1970s, they are now rushing back into downtowns all over the U.S.

Florida uses Miami as a case study. He explains that a certain central neighborhood attracted galleries and showrooms, followed by restaurants, then finally high end retailers that had been out in the suburbs. Florida then goes on to point out that even less ritzy towns are experiencing something similar and that all downtown retail doesn’t need to be extremely high end.

One of Florida’s implicit points also seems to be that people living in suburban neighborhoods already drive to shopping centers in suburban malls so they’d also be willing to drive to downtown districts.

He concludes,

From where I sit, what’s happening in Miami is something of a bellwether, an unmistakable sign that the economic and commercial center of gravity is shifting away from the suburbs and back to the urban core. We are at a similar inflection point today to the one we experienced in the 1970s, when retail abruptly decamped to the suburbs. Only this time, the impetus is the other way around.

There are a few lessons here for Provo. The first is that downtown really could be a major retail destination. In fact, Provo’s compact size leaves it better poised for this kind of a comeback than bigger cities like Miami. Whereas those cities have to compete with multiple malls spread through numerous surrounding suburbs, Provo doesn’t. In fact, Provo’s downtown is located as close or closer to many residents as competing Utah County malls.

The second big lesson here is that cities are bringing retail to downtown by creating “design districts.” In Miami, creative businesses — related to architecture and interior design in that case — lured successive waves of restaurants and retailers. The process is only briefly explained in Florida’s article, though it’s a major focus of his work generally and not impossible to understand. In the end, then, luring similarly creative businesses to downtown may be the key to diversifying downtown Provo and bringing back retail.

As is the case in many cities, downtown Provo lacks major retailers. However, Richard Florida believes that retail is on its way back into American downtowns.

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1 Comment

Filed under Development, Downtown

One response to “Shopping in Downtown

  1. Paul

    Regarding retail in Downtown Provo: most of the attention in recent times has been given to filling storefronts on Center St. and nearby parts of University Ave. As has been the case in other successful old-town districts (Pasadena is a great example, tho in a much larger market), this starts with small, nearly always locally-owned specialty shops. As Florida observes, design-oriented businesses often figure prominently in the tenant mix of such areas. If it’s really successful, there follows an upward spiral in the retail & restaurant market, eventually drawing in regional, then national, chains able to pay higher rents and to justify the cost of the major work which the older buildings frequently need. (Some people see the addition of the national chains to the district as more curse than blessing.) This kind of a specialty retail-dining district can be a legitimate destination place. However, it’s pretty unusual for such places to become the major retail engines which they once were. That probably requires the addition of newer, larger buildings with ample parking. Off of Center Street, we have places in central Provo where that could happen, although it would be a significant departure from where most cities takes these old-town districts.

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