It is interesting to notice how neighborhood business clusters grow. I have about six good examples in San Francisco. We’re not talking about a new neighborhood on the outskirts of a city, we’re talking about inside a healthy and dynamic urban area. Nor are we talking about a shopping center. Such centers could learn from looking at the organic growth of business neighborhoods.
In the most bizarre case I know, the Urban Farmer opened during hippie days with an urban farming segment that was organic and committed. The store had a vast inventory that was unique and high quality. The store is still thriving 40 years later. It is next to the largest Asian food market in San Francisco which opened shortly after and is still flourishing. Other stores have followed these two magnetic stores with their heavy car traffic and good parking.
In another case a women’s boutique opened in a dead old business neighborhood with a nearly dead movie theater next door. The street was near an upscale neighborhood and safe. The boutique only carried the lines of six local original coutures. The traffic of rich women was so great that ten stores opened within one year in the several nearby vacant stores. One of which was a first rate art gallery with ceramics and jewelry. It became a new magnet store for the same market. Several restaurants opened to cater to the high end foot traffic.
The neighborhood went back to its zombie status about five years later when a bank opened next to the boutique and drove up rents.
In two other neighborhoods, two very good new restaurants have brought new vitality to dead shopping neighborhoods. Both restaurants served meals from 7am to 10pm, which is important to maintain foot traffic.
As a pattern emerges, I see magnet businesses, in one case a new industry such as espresso shops in North Beach in 1960, Alfred Peet’s in Berkeley in 1965, and Blue Bottle in Hayes Valley in San Francisco, and another industry is now growing: fresh baking. These can generate enough customers to create foot traffic, pedestrian safety, lawyers, dentists and therapists in residential buildings nearby, then takeout food cooked in a market, followed by taverns, and clothing stores. Clothing includes boutiques, shoes and jewelry. The smaller stores in between are filled with cosmetics, hair stylists and personal grooming. By the time the neighborhood has specialized service stores, which used to be FedEx and copy shops, it gets bank branches and realty offices.
A neighborhood dies when the magnet stores die, change dramatically or are not replaced with new versions. These days an Apple store is a magnet so is Forever 21, both chain retailers.