The two streets in San Francisco that I want to describe are both pedestrian shopping streets in the same Marina neighborhood. They are both straight East-West streets and they both go roughly 6 blocks; they have the same parking and residential circumstances.
In the 1960s, Union St. got an overall design by an architect friend of mine, Beverly Willis. For the next 30 years Union St. was on the map for all visiting tourists and was a very successful walking destination for shoppers. In the 90s and since then it has been dead. The picture below was taken at the same time as the picture on the right. Sunday early afternoon on a warm Summers day. Union Street was empty, Chestnut Street was crowded.
What is the difference?
Union street has banned virtually all chain stores excluding two or three such as Starbucks.
Chestnut Street welcomes chain stores and more than half of the storefronts are either chain stores or well-known brands.
Union street has virtually no good restaurants and only a few bars. It has little nighttime traffic and most of its daytime stores are for jewelry or nails. The fashions are boring.
Chestnut Street is noted for its many good popular priced restaurants, it's jumping bars and the fashion outlets. The stores are perfectly in sync with the age group that crowds the street.
Why are chain stores so important to the vitality of a street with walking shoppers?
I can identify two reasons.
* The first is that people are familiar with chain stores and their presence offers physical security.
In San Francisco there are two routes from downtown to Fisherman's Wharf. The short route is through North Beach the long route is along the waterfront. Very few tourists take the short route because there are virtually no chain stores that they recognize. Excluding Walgreens they do not see any familiar signs that let them know that they are in comfortable territory. Chain store names whether it is the Gap, McDonald's, Starbucks, Whole Foods or UPS give people a sense that they know the neighborhood; the sense that they know what is in the store. Chain stores provide a comforting environment. (This doesn’t apply to German tourists who will go anywhere.)
* The second is that chain stores have vital information about consumer tastes and interests because they have geographic diversity. They do a better job serving their customers.
Chains can spot street fashions in West LA, in Boulder and in Tel Aviv. This sensitivity is not available to local stores. The chain stores can also detect changes in consumer patterns in both marketing appeals and supplier innovations. These are rarely accessible to local stores.
Most importantly the managers in chain stores have an incentive to work harder and do a better job because there are promotions and slots in management above. That is not true for local stores.
The last photo I have included is a government project. The state, local and federal governments wiped out an historic black neighborhood with urban development. Decades later they replaced it with a city designed Black Heritage Jazz Cultural Center.
Look carefully at the photo on the right and you will not see pedestrians. It didn't work.
Government bureaucrats don’t have the vaguest idea of how business works. They have put tens of millions of dollars into supporting the few businesses that have been bribed into opening stores. Being public-housing-project-adjacent means failure even if it hadn't been a bureaucrat design.