The decline of the tacky strip mall

| Print |  Email
Articles - May 2011
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Of course, it isn’t easy to categorize strip malls in the constantly changing world of retail sales. Is the Zupan’s Market at the corner of NW 23rd and Burnside a strip mall? What about the former auto lot on Northeast Sandy that is now a vintage clothing store with space for food carts? How many of the 12.5 million square feet of retail centers in the Portland market listed as “community centers” might be better described as strip malls?

0511_StripMall_02Edward T. McMahon of the Urban Land Institute defines a commercial strip as “a linear pattern of retail businesses strung along major roadways characterized by massive parking lots, big signs, boxlike buildings and a total dependence on automobiles for access and circulation.”

McMahon is the author of a recent influential essay, “The Future of the Strip,” that argues persuasively that the era of strip development in the U.S. is “slowly coming to an end.” He builds his case on several large trends that he sees as irreversible:

  • Developers have overbuilt the strip.
  • Major retailers such as Target, Home Depot and even Wal-Mart are moving into the city.
  • The suburbs are growing more urban.
  • Younger shoppers want character and style.
  • Gas prices and congestion make the strip even less enjoyable for shoppers.
  • E-commerce will result in fewer and smaller stores.

In McMahon’s view, those trends add up to a powerful force that retailers and communities would be foolish to ignore. “The two distinguishing characteristics of strip malls are that they’re ugly and congested,” he says. “Try running a marketing campaign around that: ‘Shop here! We’re ugly AND congested!’”

Strip centers fitting that description were not built with legacy in mind. “Strip centers can live as short of a life as 10-12 years,” says Portland-based retail consultant David  Leland. “Once they’re dead, they’re dead. You get two or three of them in a row and you’ve got a dead zone. You keep getting these newer, nicer centers further from the center, leap-frogging one another, and they leave behind a kind of museum of failure.”

Even professionals with a stake in the future of McLoughlin are blunt in acknowledging that the strip isn’t working. “You go into a lot of these places and look around and you know why they’re vacant,” Joe Green III says of his less-than-proactive neighbors near the Green Castle. “The traditional strip retail centers, they’re over — they’re done. And they should be.”

Commercial Realty Advisors broker Alex MacLean, who is trying to lease the massive space left behind on McLoughlin by the shuttered Joe’s store, says McLoughlin suffers from a lack of identity. “There’s nothing about that area that distinguishes it, with the possible exception of the auto lots.”

The same weakness applies to other struggling strips from Salem to Beaverton to Vancouver. Michele Reeves, a land-use consultant who works with communities to make better use of their commercial strips, says many of the problems result from poor planning and design. The proliferation of retail choices makes the strip congested, and cities respond by making the street even wider. Before long you have a blighted arterial where crossing the street is an act of valor. “What do you do? Keep widening the road? In 15 or 20 years you are going to have a 12-lane road, and it will still be congested.”

In her previous career, Reeves helped turn Portland’s North Mississippi Avenue from a run-down strip into a shopping and dining destination. Now she works with communities with sprawl problems to help make their commercial strips more functional and appealing. “We’re in the middle of a big demographic shift,” she says. “People want to live in the center, in walkable neighborhoods. For communities with no walkable amenities, they need to worry because they are on the wrong side of the trend.”

Plenty of communities are aware of the trend in Oregon, and quite a few are acting on it, through Main Street investments and various attempts at urban revitalization. There is even a McLoughlin Area Plan Committee trying to capitalize on the coming light rail line to build a more attractive, modern retail district, with a sense of place and character rather than a blur of roadside signs.

“The next 30-40 years will be the era of the reinvention of the suburbs,” predicts the Land Institute’s McMahon in a telephone interview. “The development paradigm is changing and the economic recession speeded up a bunch of things that were happening anyhow.”

 



 

Comments   

 
Kevin Matthews - ArchitectureWeek
0 #1 Like West 11th in Eugene...Kevin Matthews - ArchitectureWeek 2011-04-27 12:53:38
The strip-convenien ce leapfrog scenario seems to describe West 11th Avenue in Eugene, along with the areas mentioned in the article.

Community leaders of Eugene from all around the political spectrum met in a consensus format from 2007 through 2009 and produced a shared vision for how to actively redevelop that two-mile strip into a new walkable main street for West Eugene:

http://www.eugeneneighbors.org/wiki/West_Eugene_Collaborative
Quote | Report to administrator
 

More Articles

Oregon businesses face destruction from future earthquake

The Latest
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
htctthumb1BY KIM MOORE | RESEARCH EDITOR

An earthquake would completely destroy many Oregon businesses, highlighting the urgent need for the private and public sectors to collaborate on shoring up disaster preparedness, said panelists at an Oregon Business breakfast summit today.


Read more...

The 5 highest revenue-generating parks in Oregon

The Latest
Thursday, June 11, 2015
parksthumbBY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

In 2014, total revenue for camping and day use in Oregon State Parks was a little more than $17 million. That figure may even higher this year "because we've had exceptionally nice weather," Hughes says.


Read more...

Urban renewer

Linda Baker
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
UnknownBY LINDA BAKER   

One year after he was appointed chair of the Portland Development Commission, Tom Kelly talks about PDC's longevity, Neil Kelly's comeback and his new role as Portlandia's landlord.


Read more...

Apartment Mania

Guest Blog
Thursday, June 18, 2015
4805983977 11466ce1d6 zBY BRAD HOULE | CFA

While most categories of commercial real estate have performed well, one of the most robust has been apartment buildings.


Read more...

Up in the Air

June 2015
Friday, May 22, 2015
BY ANNIE ELLISON

Portland tech veteran Ben Berry is leaving his post as Portland’s chief technology officer for a full-time role producing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) aimed at first responders and the military. Berry’s AirShip Technologies Group is poised to be on the ground floor of an industry that will supply drones to as many as 100,000 police, fire and emergency agencies nationwide. He reveals the plan for takeoff.


Read more...

6 things to know about the Amtrak Cascades route

The Latest
Friday, May 22, 2015
thumb3BY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

The recent tragedy in Philadelphia has called attention to Amtrak and the nation's woefully underfunded rail service. Here are six facts about the Amtrak Cascades corridor between Eugene and Vancouver B.C. 


Read more...

Downtime with John Helmick

June 2015
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER

Live, Work, Play: CEO of Gorilla Capital.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS