A Main Street Resurgence?

A Main Street Resurgence?

The homepage of our website has just two sentences:

We are a real estate development and urban design firm focused on complex ground floor leasing + activation projects. Our approach embraces a local-first mentality that is steeped in the context of the places and spaces we work.

We have, and always will, fly the local-first piece proudly in our messaging. Because it is core to our approach, our world-view, and the way we understand value creation in the urban mixed-use context. Today, with COVID-19 related considerations dominating our conversations, decision making, and daily life, we are thinking a lot about how localism will play out in the months and years ahead.

Our plan here at Graffito is to double-down on our belief that it is the locally owned businesses that add the most to our commercial districts, microeconomics and shared cultures. Coming out of this I think (and hope) there will be a partial return to “Main Street” thinking and planning — and with it a resurgence of the small-format local shops and properly-scaled storefront that add texture, vibrancy and diversity to our neighborhoods. Because traditional malls were dying pre-coronavirus; they’ll be outright dead much sooner now. Retail chains were accelerating the gentrification and sterilization of our urban neighborhoods; we’ll see some cooling off of this trend as capital from retail-centric private equity dries up. Supply chains were increasingly becoming global and certainly national; regional and hyper-local networks will be equally as valuable moving forward. So, when the dust settles from this crisis, what if it is in fact the local businesses that emerge stronger and most resilient?

Macy's, Burlington. Photo by Remi Thornton

The assumption from many in retail real estate right now is that locals will be crushed because of COVID-19 and it is the chains that are be best equipped to figure out the right recipe for recovery. Maybe it is the opposite though? Maybe, as we’ve said so many times on this blog and elsewhere, the most important thing in our post-coronavirus world is flexility, non-formulaic thinking, and strong local networks…

In my client update on Monday I noted that it was the local banks that were able to deliver PPP funds to the market most effectively and efficiently over the past few months, while the behemoth national banks floundered under the weight of their clumsy and impersonal systems. Will the same be true across other industries? It’s too early to tell, but I think you know where I am going here and what my suspicion is. In the meantime, here’s a fun piece from economist and author Michale Shulman that lines up with some of my thinking at the moment, especially as related to local investment (pt 2), innovation (pt 5), connectivity (pt 7), and social performance of business (pt 8): Comparative Resilience: 8 Principles for Post-COVID Reconstruction

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