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Progressive Retail Centers

“You can’t always get what you want,
but if you try sometimes 
you’ll find
you get what you need.”
-The Rolling Stones

The Mid-20th Century American Existential Psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote of a “Hierarchy of Needs.” This pyramid of needs describes the process of fulfilling human potential, starting with satisfying the need for food, shelter and clothing and working upward through to self-esteem and the needs of others – in other words, from needs to wants. The need hierarchy is dynamic – the dominant need shifts constantly. The musician, in the midst of playing, becomes tired and hungry and puts down his instrument. And a single behavior may combine several levels – shopping can fulfill physiological, social and esteem needs all at the same time.

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs
1. Physiological Needs: Food, Shelter, Clothing.
2. Safety Needs: Security, Structure and Protection.
3. Social Needs: Sense of Belonging and Community.
4. Esteem Needs: Respect, Self-respect, and Recognition.
5. Self-Actualization: Moving beyond the Self.

Most in contemporary Western culture find their Physiological Needs readily met, and reside on levels above the base of the pyramid. Nevertheless, the first payments out of each paycheck are typically spent at the neighborhood supermarket and its neighboring shops. All other household expenditures may fluctuate from prosperous to languishing economic times, but supermarket expenditures are a Western cultural constant. As a result, the neighborhood shopping center in America has typically been developed as a needs-driven commodity product, and creative designs are not often seriously considered in neighborhood center development.

On the other hand Thomas Friedman, of The New York Times, wrote in 1999 of what then appeared to be a pending collision between e-commerce and shopping center industry in his widely acclaimed 1999 book The Lexus and the Olive Tree. While e-commerce had yet to prove to be much of a threat to traditional retailing formats, he gave a timeless warning about the risks of operating a retail property as a need-based commodity.

Thomas Friedman, from The Lexus and the Olive Tree

    “[A]s we rapidly move into a world in which the Internet will define both commerce and communication, there will be just two kinds of businesses: Internet businesses and anti-Internet businesses.

    “Internet businesses are those that can either be done over the Internet . . . or be significantly enhanced by the Internet.

    “Anti-Internet businesses are those that cannot be done over the Internet . . . and those that are in some ways a reaction against the Internet. Those would include things like shopping centers and Starbucks coffeehouses. I call coffeehouses and the shopping center anti-Internet businesses because they benefit from the fact that the more people are home alone with their computers, surfing the Net, the more these same people will want to get out of the house, go to the mall or Starbucks or Main Street and touch someone, smell something, taste something or feel something . . . The more they are in their Lexuses, the more they will want to spend time leaning against their olive trees.”

Friedman discounted – with a warning – any likely significant impact of e-commerce on the shopping center industry. As convenient and attractive as Internet shopping might become, the solitary nature of e-commerce works against the third need in Maslow’s Need Hierarchy: the basic human need for socialization is very strong.

On the other hand, Friedman warned, the shopping experience, the shopping environment must fill the desire, the want to get out of the house, to touch something, to smell something, to feel something, to be with others. If a neighborhood shopping center property is designed for function alone and not for socialization – for needs alone and not for wants – then that property is unnecessarily vulnerable to competition from emerging forms of commerce.

Especially within areas of strong disposable income the charge is simple: Shopping Centers must occupy a place within society which is more than simply a commercial venue – in that role alone shopping centers are commodities overly vulnerable to competition. Instead, successful centers must also be places of social interaction, with excellence in location, design, execution and operations.

This is what we at Foothill call a “Progressive Retail Center.”

© Foothill Partners Incorporated 2003

Center of Community

Center of Community

Center of Commerce – Center of Culture – Center of Community

One Place

Across the course of human history and the breadth of human culture, the Centers of Commerce and of Culture have traditionally been one place, a shared place, the Center of Community. The Greek agora of ancient western culture, the Arab souk of the east, these were the places where one went for the daily events of life – for commerce, for governance, for arts, for worship, for social contact. These were where one found merchants, priests, craftsmen, administrators, artists and entertainers, where one’s home was found. The agora and the souk gave way to new names, but always for the same idea: Commerce and Culture occupying one place, the Center of Community. One Place across human history.

Not so in contemporary Western culture. The events and advancements of the Western 20th Century served to redefine culture in remarkable ways – and in some lamentable ways. Among those lamentable ways is our recent history of separating commerce from culture – in so doing we have weakened our communities. We live in one place, we shop in a second, we work in a third, we worship in yet another, and we seek entertainment in others. The places of our lives have become segregated, specialized, and sanitized – and we spend our days endlessly shuttling from one to another. Housing goes here, shopping goes there, employment centers somewhere else, no place where it all gets mixed together.

So where, then, do we meet each other? In what place can our lives be accidentally enriched?

The shopping center industry, in which Foothill finds its roots, was a leading player in this sea-change. We listened to our merchants and their need for parking, their vulnerabilities and reactions to competition, and we pulled them out of the center of our communities, off to the edges, far removed from the center of culture. We turned our role as the “agoranomos”, the overseer of the agora, into that of the mall manager, and our culture is the poorer for it. Wall Street is with us in its drive for predictability and specialization – there are shopping center funds, office building funds, industrial park funds, apartment funds, single family home funds, even self-storage funds. There are few funds with the fundamentals to understand the mixing of uses in a community, or with the ability to invest in that direction.

The planning community and regulatory bodies are equally complicit. Only recently have zoning codes intentionally encouraged mixing it up. Land use gets fiscalized, the agora gets left behind, and we end up with sterile neighborhoods devoid of central districts and of civic engagement. And what passes for mixed-use – residential units stacked over a thin band of ground floor “retail” – is no replacement for what has been lost. 

Even the preservation communities of our culture are complicit – we don’t live or work in our old buildings; instead, we cordon them off behind velvet ropes, segregate them apart from everyday life, charge an admission fee to see them, turn them into something less than they were, than what they could be.

And our culture is the poorer for it. The places where we run into those whom we might never otherwise meet are fewer and fewer. Restaurants – we don’t like eating alone – occupy ever narrower niches as the segments of our cultures – shoppers and workers and friends gathering to be together – are further and further stratified. Vibrant churches and temples and synagogues are no longer at home in the center of our communities. We are increasingly polarized, and our communities are symbols of that polarization.

Is this to say that there is no place in our culture for the specialized brick-and-mortar mass merchants who are so effective at delivering staggering breadths of merchandise at remarkable prices? No, there are benefits here. Is this to say that there is no value in zoning regulations which establish quiet and predictable neighborhoods, or efficient workplaces? No, there are benefits here, too.

But we will do well as a culture to intentionally allow for, intentionally encourage and create those places that are a bit less planned, where the milieu of life is allowed, is encouraged to grow and to thrive. We are a better place for observing our nature, our history, our traditions, our values, by returning the Center of Commerce and the Center of Culture back together again in the Center of our Communities.

Foothill’s commitment, in however small a way, is to work towards the return the Center of Commerce to the Center of Community, to bring back together again the Center of Commerce and the Center of Culture, one property at a time, as one place, the Center of Community.

© Foothill Partners Incorporated 2015

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