Home Back Issues May 2011 The decline of the tacky strip mall

The decline of the tacky strip mall

| Print |  Email
Articles - May 2011
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Article Index
The decline of the tacky strip mall
Page 2
Page 3
Page 4
Page 5
Page 6
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

Revolution in print, pixels and passion

News
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
RyanFrankNewsBY MARK BLAINE | OB BLOGGER

The publisher of the Emerald Media Group moves on, leaving a cutting edge media group that depends on business acumen for its survival.


Read more...

Buy the book

News
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
2 03.25.14 thumb bookshopBY VIVIAN MCINERNY | OB BLOGGER

Oregon is home not only to many fine writers but also several accomplished small publishers.


Read more...

Downtime with Ron Green

March 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
BY JESSICA RIDGWAY

Ron Green became president and CEO of Oregon Pacific Bank in August 2013.


Read more...

Leader's bookshelf

Contributed Blogs
Friday, March 14, 2014
02.06.14 BooksBY TOM COX | OB BLOGGER

Five books that will make you a better leader.


Read more...

Tech makes the world go round

Contributed Blogs
Thursday, March 20, 2014
03.20.14 thumb internetBY JASON NORRIS | GUEST BLOGGER

I don’t think anyone can (or should) remember what it was like to get things done without the internet. This milestone in technology has certainly benefited brick-and-mortar companies and subsequently launched a new era of businesses.


Read more...

Closing the gap: Community colleges and workforce training

News
Thursday, March 27, 2014
03.27.14 thumb collegeBY MARY SPILDE | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

Community college career, technical and workforce programs present an opportunity to bring business and education together as never before.


Read more...

Rapid ascent

March 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
IMG 4255-2BY AMY MILSHTEIN

Kelly Dachtler, president of The Clymb, redefines outdoor retail.


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