In one of my first posts on this blog (link) I referenced a popular retail real estate magazine, Retail Traffic, and touched on my belief that its writers were missing the mark a bit in analyzing 2009 by ignoring the exciting growth of small, local, owner-operated business (restaurants especially) during the recession — The article was dramatically titled “2009: The Most Difficult Year in Retail Real Estate History.” Now, a half-year later, Retail Traffic is finally starting to pay proper attention to small locals, which I think is because institutional Landlords and mall developers are too. Here are two recent headlines, both from July 20th:
“Local Restaurants Can Be A Point of Distinction for Mall” & “Landlords Can Help Small Restaurants Find Success.”
Great stuff, right? Here’s the one thing that really bothers me about the second headline though… is it really the Landlords that “can help” the small restaurants? Let’s be honest here, many of the mall LLs that are now looking to locals are doing so because they have to – Quiznos, Cold Stone Creamery, Circuit City, etc. have been shuttering and LLs need to fill dark spaces. The examples of chain closing and LLs looking to replace with locals are abundant here in Boston Metro (Crema Cafe replaced Au Bon Pain on Brattle St. in Harvard Sq; BerryLine replaced Robecks at the Trilogy Blding near Fenway; Blue State Coffee is moving into a space that Cold Stone abandoned on BU’s West Campus; etc.).
Unlike Retail Traffic, I think it’s primarily the small restaurants that are helping Landlords find success, not the opposite. Well, actually, it’s a mutually beneficial process. Ah yes, mutual benefit… (read more)
Food trucks have been getting a lot of buzz in Boston of late. Actually, food trucks have been gaining a lot of attention and momentum in America’s most exciting cities for the last couple of years (NYC, LA, SF, Seattle, Austin, etc.). What’s interesting about the recent buzz in Boston is that it’s from the City’s Mayor and City Council.
One of Boston’s most well known food trucks is Clover, which started operating out Kendall Square in October 2008. Last month Clover started service out of a second truck in Dewey Square, which is at the southern-most tip of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. Clover’s Boston spot has been a huge hit and the honorable Mayor Menino is a fan. In a July 13th speech he spoke about food trucks, specifically IDing Clover, and announced the “Food Truck Challenge,” which will be a sort of food truck business plan competition with the winner getting a spot on City Hall Plaza. Shortly after the Mayor’s speech, City Council President Michael Ross ordered for a hearing regarding “mobile restaurants industry licensing and regulations.” Here’s the link: Food Truck Order for Hearing. On July 14th, the Boston Globe reported that Ross expressed a belief that the City could support 50 – 100 food trucks. (read more)
I was in NYC earlier this week with Alex and Neil debriefing re: our first 5+ months of CityRetail. It was a valuable exercise to step back a bit and take a look at the business. One issue we briefly discussed is the following:
Does it make sense to add Tenant Representation work to the list of services CityRetail offers – i.e., we have been working on the landowner side to find retailers; what about working on the tenant side to find deals? This is a question that I’ve been thinking a lot about of late. Here’s the threshold issue: we want to work with small, local owner-operated businesses but is it worth the brain damage of taking on a client, running around the city, providing advisory services, etc. for the potential of placing it in retail space that we (i) don’t have an ownership interest in and/or (ii) isn’t owned by a landlord that we have an ongoing relationship with. Being a broker on the retailer side is about finding the best possible space at the best possible price in the best possible location given the Tenant’s priorities and preferences. This takes patience and diligence and, if done properly, draws on multiple disciplines. It’s work that I think we could do and do well but it’s work that takes time and, as with any small business, time is something that has to be allocated carefully and thoughtfully during the start-up phase. (read more)
Best Buy has rolled out some prototype electronic vending machines in select locations (mostly airports) over the past couple of years. I’ve only seen one, which is in the JetBlue terminal (C) at Logan Airport in Boston. I wrote a couple of months ago about eMenus and software/hardware innovation and use in restaurants and think these Best Buy kiosks are an equally interesting retail experiment. The kiosks sell small-sized personal consumer electronics and accessories: iPods, cameras, headphones, etc. It’s cool, assuming it works…
I was traveling via JetBlue yesterday and was pretty excited to try the “Best Buy Express,” as I need new headphones/mic for my iPhone. The process was easy and quick (touch screen ordering, simple instructions) BUT the mechanism that retrieved my headphones from the shelf somehow snagged two boxes and a fail-safe must have been activated and the order (and machine) froze – i.e., I was about to get two candy bars for the price of one out of the vending machine… (read more)
The Boston Globe’s online counterpart, boston.com, had a short piece today – more of a slideshow than anything – re: outdoor dining in the Boston area, which is very timely considering the stretch of warm spring weather we’ve been having. Without exception, every restauranteur I’ve met with over the past couple of years wants an outdoor dining area. It’s (i) a great feature for an urban restaurant – consumers love it – and (ii) it’s typically additional square footage that is usable but is not included in calculating rent. While there may only be 75 – 100 proper days a year for outdoor dining, it’s no doubt becoming more of a fixture and a “must have” in the Boston dining scene.
As for the boston.com piece (link), I think it missed the mark a bit by focusing on the most touristy neighborhoods of the City – Back Bay, Waterfront/North End and Fenway combined had over half of the 19 slides while Harvard Square and the South End each had only 1, respectively.
I believe that Harvard Square and the South End are though the two best neighborhoods in the area for outdoor dining…(read more)
Apparently word has gotten out to street canvassers that Kendall is hot. The number of the people pitching causes/initiatives for Save the Children, MassPIRG, ACLU, etc. in Kendall is definitely on the rise and it’s pretty exciting. The fact that these folks find the foot-traffic heavy enough to justify such activities is a great sign.
Like it or not, street canvassing (for money and/or signatures) is a reality in busy urban places. In fact, I’d be willing to bet there is a direct connection between the number of canvassers and price per square of retail space. This would be a fun study. For now though, I’m happy to see the canvassers in Kendall Square (I haven’t seen Greenpeace though – when they come it will really mean the neighborhood has arrived). Maybe I’ll start adding incidents of canvassing to our CityRetail marketing reports…
Last week I went to the City of Cambridge Planning Board meeting to give testimony re: Twining Properties’ commitment to retail in Kendall Square. I was asked to speak by the East Cambridge Planning Team, a community organization that is extremely active in East Cambridge. They are an impressive group and have been tremendous advocates for preserving and spurring neighborhood and community assets in light of significant real estate development (office and lab) in East Cambridge. The group’s most recent effort was opposing Equity Office’s attempts to seek approval from the City to use first floor retail space for office use in one of its building at Canal Park, which is located at the intersection of First Street and Cambridge Street in Cambridge, MA.
It was a bit awkward for me to give testimony in a matter (I didn’t support or oppose Equity’s petition) that pits a real estate developer/landlord and a community group. Equity’s position was that they made a good faith and extraordinary effort to lease the space and that it would go vacant indefinitely unless the City allowed an office use. I didn’t say it but I wholly disagree with the landlord’s position. Regardless, it’s a complicated issue and I think both sides had reasonable arguments… (read more)
There was a NYT article last month about the explosion of “serious” coffeehouses/cafes in NYC (i.e. shops that take great pride and care in the way the coffee is sourced, roasted, prepared and served) and Boston too is on a similar upward course; Cambridge even more so. We may always be a Dunkin Donuts inclined city but we are finally getting some top-notch coffeehouses that serve proper espresso drinks and outstanding coffee.
The newest addition to the scene is Pavement Coffeehouse on Boylston Street in Boston, just west of Mass Ave, which officially opens tomorrow. Pavement is hoping on the bandwagon that has brought great success and praise to Crema Cafe, Bloc 11 Cafe, Taste Coffeehouse, Cafe Fixe and Barismo, all of which have opened in the past couple of years. The most exciting and developed retail districts in Somerville/Cambridge have great local cafes. Davis Square has Diesel Cafe; Ball Square has True Grounds; Porter Sq – Simon’s; Harvard Sq – Crema; Inman Sq – 1369; Union Sq – Block 11; Central Sq – Toscinini’s and Kendall has BeanTowne. Cambridge is dominating the coffee scene of late (and always has) but with Pavement Boston should be in for a treat.
I think it’s a pretty safe bet that we’ll see between 8 to 12 more of these “serious” coffeehouses opening in the next couple of years and no doubt CityRetail will be keeping a close watch.
Over the past decade I’ve worked with many restaurants – most recently as a lawyer doing a lot of tenant-side lease negotiations and currently on the landlord-side with Twining Properties and as a broker with CityRetail. Since my clients are usually busier than I am (nobody works harder or more than restauranteurs), I go to them… I’ve seen a lot of kitchens and some really funky buildings. I’ve been immersed enough in the restaurant scene to know the builders, equipment suppliers and food distributors. I know that, at some point, every restaurant owner/manager/chef has made the trek out to Chelsea or Needham to Restaurant Depot for something they needed ASAP.
Last Friday my meeting with Ayr Muir of Clover was relocated from the comfy confines of my office to Ayr’s car, as Ayr needed to make a Restaurant Depot run (don’t worry Clover fans, Ayr didn’t buy any food product, just some paper goods). We used the ride to and from Chelsea to go over a handful of final issues in connection with a lease for Clover’s soon-to-be first storefront location. Ayr knows me well enough by now to know that I’d be fine with the car ride meeting and, quite frankly, I was thrilled at the idea of having my first Restaurant Depot experience. (read more)
I was in Naples, FL with family a couple of weekends ago. Naples is a strange place. It’s not urban and it’s not suburban. It’s very much a tourist town with a lot of retirees. It’s the most well-known and populous municipality in Collier County, a county with approx. 315,000 people (2007 Census), which is roughly half the population of Boston city proper. Naples and its surrounding communities combine for a population of approximately 60,000. Naples though has more shopping centers than any place I have ever been to. It is amazing. Even considering the tourism, the numbers just don’t add up to me. It’s all big box retail, the centers all look the same and the tenant mix is close to identical in every center. You name a chain restaurant and I’d be shocked if you won’t find it in Naples. There are enormous parking lots at every center, there’s a lot of traffic and you see few people walking or biking. Naples retail is about as far as you can get from the urban stuff we work on here at CityRetail.
Given all of the above, when I heard that one of the biggest shopping centers in all of southwest FL was just 2 miles from the airport I had to check it out. This place, Gulf Coast Town Center, is HUGE – unlike any center I’ve ever seen in the Northeast. Here are some pictures of just a few of the big box retailers: