Just after the financial collapse of 2008 many of the same people who had warned of the residential real estate bubble bursting started to warn of a bust in commercial real estate. Long before the Amazon Effect or Cyber Monday it was being pointed out that the United States had, in particular, orders of magnitude more retail square footage per person than the rest of the industrialized world.
Perhaps prior to the 2000’s people had begun discussing “the dead mall”, but it was usually in the context of an older, worn out shopping center being made obsolete by a newer, fresher model. Now we see the mall as having diminishing significance overall in people’s day to day lives, and even big box retail is taking a hit.
In my mind I had seen this trend having an impact on the malls, the big box retailers, and on many, many, many strip malls; but not on Main Streets. After all, Main Street retail was either of the elite, boutique type to have survived during the height of the mall era or, conversely, it was already “mostly dead” with the only thing left to do being to “search the pockets for loose change”.
Oh, how wrong I was.
Northampton, which I would have placed among the unassailable elites in Main Street retailing is losing storefront after storefront. A family member told me that in Mt Kisco, New York; a town surrounded by lots of money and with a great Main Street, city leaders have had to form a task force to address what they view as an alarming number of empty storefronts. Here in Springfield MGM seems to have given up on trying to get another retailer into its billion dollar resort complex and is turning half its vacant space into another bar:
In my neighborhood what keeps the storefronts alive are the Italian markets, local restaurants, take out places, and the bodegas. Apart from that we still have a florist, one coffee shop which isn’t part of a chain, a package store, a local pharmacy, a CBD retailer hoping to sell legal weed soon, a thrift shop, a bank, a dry cleaner, an African Market, a phone store, a physical therapist, a chiropractor, and 6 empty storefronts.
Some busy blocks:
The empty ones:
That’s all more or less to the south. To the north, directly across from MGM there is almost nothing. There is a day care center and a post office. One jeweler is vacating its space further up the street to be closer to MGM, a barber shop displaced by MGM moved across the street, and there are eight vacant storefronts. Some have been empty since before MGM was even thought of, but they stay vacant now because the property owners clearly believe that there is a chance to make that one big deal which will set them up for life, as opposed to doing the moderately hard work of creating or leasing to a successful enterprise themselves.
In all these buildings right across from MGM; a barber shop, the post office, and lots of empty storefronts:
Red Rose has shown that proximity to MGM can be a great thing, thousands of people are willing to leave the MGM footprint and spend their money elsewhere; strange though, those same people insist on getting something in return, they seem unwilling to just slip the cash through the mail slot of any empty shop. Given that what properties have changed hands have gone for a higher prices I could see higher property taxes creating enough pain to get the speculators to sell. It may be a two edged sword, however. What damage will it do to the ma and pa shops just down the street who do their best just to survive?
It wouldn’t be the first time that unrealistic expectations managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.