BrainTrust Query: Main Street Must Be Interdependent Businesses, Not Independent
Commentary by Bob Phibbs, The Retail Doctor
Through a special arrangement,
presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Retail
There is a renewed emphasis on downtown Main Streets because they
are what gives their communities character. You don’t get that from a
concrete, tilt-up big-box development out by the interstate.
The National Trust
for Historic Preservation is behind the excellent Main Street program because
America’s foundation for greatness has come from honoring
and preserving the best of the past.
Originally, Main Street had the saloon,
the hotel, the livery, the general store, the church — all of the services
— because they all needed each other. The key to any Main Street program or
Downtown Business Association is to remove the idea of "independent business"
and understand it is a collection of "interdependent" businesses.
is what spelled doom for so many downtowns in the 1970s and 1980s when they
didn’t care what the other guy was doing. Now the best
Main Street businesses understand, "if I close early, I could be hurting
the very neighbors I depend on to make a living."
The worst still close
on Sundays and limit hours to when it is convenient for the owner. I call that
"hobby retailing." That’s not smart
in a hyper-competitive environment for everything from furniture to food, from
plasmas to plants and from coffee to crafts.
Smart retailers will
find they can do with smaller footprints in this economy which perfectly fit
many historic areas. Expect to see more variety and selection as America
rebuilds its core.
With gas costs rising, we’ll see more interest in
the downtowns that were so quickly abandoned for the concrete reality of the
malls. It won’t
happen easily or quickly, but clearly with over a thousand Main Street programs
across the country, it is gaining steam.
Discussion Questions: How important is "interdependency" to
the success of downtown independent retailers? How is this principle best practiced?