If there is one word to describe the retail market downtown, it’s untapped. With $350 million in annual retail spending potential, “We’re the largest untapped retail market in the region,” says Marc Conte, deputy director of research, planning and facilities at Capital Crossroads SID.
An eclectic mix of daytime employees, downtown residents, in-town residents, college students, overnight visitors, as well as local and regional visitors, contribute to the market potential. While discussion has opened up about the retail situation downtown with new businesses inhabiting the area, “We’ve continued to see growth, but we haven’t even scratched the surface, especially in certain categories,” says Kacey Brankamp, business recruiter for the Capital Crossroads SID.
In partnership with Boulevard Strategies, Capital Crossroads SID commissioned a study of the retail market downtown, updated as of February 2014. The study identifies the spending potential for various market segments, while establishing key corridors for retail development.
Overall, “The retailers are interested, they believe the numbers, they believe in downtown, the problem is affordable, quality space in clustered locations,” Conte says.
“One of the problems with our downtown is it’s one of the largest in the country based on acreage,” Brankamp says. Due to size, lack of parking dedicated to retail and size limitations, most retailers and restaurants currently rely on pedestrian traffic created by uses within about a quarter-mile of their location. Few retailers or restaurants can truly serve all of downtown, creating a need for every category of retail across the area.
With its large layout, Capital Crossroads SID has identified six submarkets downtown for potential retail development, each with different retail demand generators and recommended merchandising focuses.
The first submarket is North High Street from Spring to Broad. With 20,000 COTA riders per weekday, 50,000 daytime workers and 3,200 hotel rooms nearby, the area is suited for what the study describes as convenience and care clusters. This includes retail establishments like banks or credit unions, mail centers, dry cleaners, auto service centers, florists and gift shops, takeout and sweets shops. A pharmacy, spa, fitness center and daycare are also well-suited for the area.
Gay Street from Front to Fourth creates another submarket. Already a dining and entertainment destination for downtown residents and those from surrounding neighborhoods, Capital Crossroads SID suggests expanding on this theme with more fine dining, ethnic cuisine and catering services, along with other specialty food shops like an ice cream parlor, bakery and wine shop. Outside of edibles, a dance club and home decor store could also be options for the street.
Closely connected to Gay Street are Lynn and Pearl Alleys. Events like the Pearl Market and Moonlight Market bring large numbers of consumers to the area during warmer months, creating an atmosphere for a hometown bazaar. Events like this also provide a good opportunity for businesses to introduce their products in a low-risk way while building a consumer base. “Business owners use the Pearl Market as a test storefront,” Brankamp says. Retailers like Sugardaddy’s and Si Senor actually started at the market before finding permanent homes downtown.
Moving one block south provides a very different retail opportunity. Capitol Square, the one block radius surrounding the statehouse, is dubbed the executive concourse serving 40,000 daytime workers, visitors from 1,125 nearby hotel rooms, and 160,000 plus annual visitors to the Statehouse and Riffe Center. Recommended retailers include specialty fashions – ties, hosiery, jewelry, watches, eyeware, etc. – electronics and cellular service providers, luggage and travel accessories, cosmetics, dry cleaners, quick-casual foodservice, coffee shops, executive gifts, a golf shop and an upscale sports bar.
One of the most intriguing areas for Conte and Brankamp is the RiverSouth District – the area south of State Street and primarily west of High. The area is experiencing a boom in construction with five new apartment buildings in the works that will add an estimated 1,000 residents to the 6,700 that already call downtown home.
This growing population of downtown residents is further increasing the need for retail in the area. In addition to the 712 units that are under construction, another 698 proposed units will further increase resident market potential.
“The RiverSouth is exciting to me because you have retail space there as well,” Brankamp says. Construction is creating a double-loaded retail street from State to Main or Mound – a great cluster, but the question remains if the spaces are affordable and the right size for the food and fun vibe the study shows might be a good fit for the area.
The 37,000 square-feet of retail that’s under construction could be filled by quick-casual foodservice, sitdown restaurants, sports bars, ethnic eateries, candy, cookie or ice cream shops, as well as a convenience store, daycare or office supply store. In addition to daytime workers and an expanding number of residents, the nearby Columbus Commons provides one million annual visitors to the area.
Third Street and Main Street is a busy intersection. An average of 38,000 vehicles pass through each weekday. This exposure plus 14,000 daytime workers within a quarter-mile of the intersection create the sixth retail district downtown, covering Third between Town and Mound, Main between Third and Fourth, and pockets of Fourth Street.
With an alternative vibe, retail in the area could include art galleries, a jazz club, a mirco-brewery or distillery, retro or re-sale shops, quick-casual food service, a wine shop, a cigar shop, computer repair, a bicycle store and exercise studios.
Overall, the study identifies that downtown has a lot of retail potential but there are hurdles to overcome. Many areas are close to offering a good fit for retail, but lack one on the list of essentials, whether it be affordability, the right size space or other retailers nearby.
Gaps in commercial corridors caused by everything from large institutions to empty buildings to parking lots hurt retail clustering. With many demolitions from the 70s through the 90s, downtown also lacks building stock composed of smaller buildings that are close together – like Gay Street or High Street in the Short North.
Focusing on how to overcome these hurdles, Brankamp asks, “How do we connect the spaces that we have?” Public transportation initiatives like the free Cbus Circulator are serving to better connect downtown to the surrounding neighborhoods and active retail clusters.
Development of these neighborhoods surrounding downtown, like Short North, Olde Towne East, German Village, the Brewery District and Franklinton, means good things for the area. “We don’t want downtown to be an island,” Conte says. Attractive surrounding neighborhoods helps make downtown more appealing. Focusing on the central city area, Brankamp says that if retailers aren’t able to find something in downtown, they are finding it in adjacent neighborhoods.
Conte will lead a discuss on untapped retail market within downtown Columbus and the increased demand that is coming with additional housing and office development as well as visitors to the area at the Franklin County Retail Summit on July 11.
Photo by Sally Wenxin Xia for ColumbusUnderground.com.