Stores Are Dead. They’re Not Coming Back to Downtown.

Despite the fact that consumers buy more and more stuff online, many people — myself included — would love to see areas like downtown Provo rebound as retail centers.

Sadly, a recent piece by Slate’s Farhad Manjoo suggests that that simply won’t happen.

Manjoo explains in the article how Amazon is currently trying to cut down on delivery time. In the future, the plan apparently goes, you’ll receive orders only hours after making them. That, in turn, will continue to cause the slow and ongoing death of physical stores.

It’s hard to overstate how thoroughly this move will shake up the retail industry. Same-day delivery has long been the holy grail of Internet retailers, something that dozens of startups have tried and failed to accomplish. (Remember Kozmo.com?) But Amazon is investing billions to make next-day delivery standard, and same-day delivery an option for lots of customers. If it can pull that off, the company will permanently alter how we shop. To put it more bluntly: Physical retailers will be hosed.

Of course, if this works, it’ll be just one more reason to shop online; Amazon’s prices, after all, often already beat those in brick and mortar stores.

Manjoo isn’t writing specifically about cities, but it’s easy to see how this development will continue to shutter businesses that remain anchored to a physical space. That means demand for retail space in places like downtown Provo will simply never return.

Slate’s Matthew Yglesias agrees that Amazon could continue to kill physical retail:

[…] I don’t think the business of building shopping centers will ever come back. Retrofitting existing ones as health care facilities, by contrast, should be a booming business.

None of this is great news for places like downtown Provo that have lots of space for retail. But Yglesias’s point about retrofitting is an important one: there are some activities — health care, eating out, perhaps even a few select types of retail — that can’t be done on the internet. The number of those activities is shrinking all the time but they should nevertheless be the focus for cities looking for future vibrancy and revitalization.

If successful, Amazon’s new plan to speed up delivery could further reduce the need for physical stores like these.

Sadly, the internet makes it increasingly difficult to put retail in downtown spaces like these. However, there are things that cannot be done online and those things could fill spaces like these.

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4 Comments

Filed under Downtown, economics

4 responses to “Stores Are Dead. They’re Not Coming Back to Downtown.

  1. Paul

    What you say is probably true for the future of routine, “utilitarian” shopping – the great majority of retail purchases that we all make. However, a place like Downtown Provo could still hone and retain its edge as a destination for shopping as an experience, even a form of entertainment. Packaging unique, attractive specialty shops with dining and other forms of recreation/entertainment could still be viable in a place with a sense of place, such as Downtown Provo possesses and needs to exploit further. Don’t count on Downtown being a big retail engine, but it can contribute economically as well as culturally and symbolically.

    • That makes sense to me and makes me realize that thats already why I go to downtown, when I’m not there for food or entertainment. The great salt lake guitar co is a good example of that, I think.

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