Let’s start off by breaking some hearts – Nordstrum’s isn’t coming to Bricktown. It probably won’t go to Core to Shore or anywhere else downtown. It’s a fantasy, one that some folks won’t let go. And no, there won’t be a mall built downtown. And the prospects for a life-style center aren’t great either (a few years back someone with Simon Malls suggested a scenario where one could be built in Core to Shore, but 2007 is now history – ancient history).
But retail can prosper downtown. It needs to prosper downtown as part of an ongoing journey into the future.
For the past two weeks I’ve struggled with a very hoarse throat, and today, I was back to being virtually speechless. But work beckoned, so I turned to email to get some interviews done for my story on the Bricktown strategic plan. One such correspondence provides an opportunity to provide you with the full context of my conversation with Chad Huntington, a veteran Bricktown observer who co-owns the Bricktown Marketplace and Red Dirt Emporium:
Question: The study indicates that bankers are less interested in backing bars and restaurants in Bricktown, and are more interested in retail and housing. Visitor marketing studies show retail also is a key factor for long term viability of an urban entertainment district. What obstacles have you faced in operating retail in Bricktown, and why aren’t more people following your lead?
Chad: Most of the challenges we have had is due to a real and/or perceived lack of retail density, and also a lack of awareness that significant retail even exists in Bricktown. We actually have worked to create our own retail density by opening the Bricktown Marketplace in 2010. It is now the largest locally-owned retail floorplate in all of downtown, at roughly 6,000 square feet. Something we tried to do different, though, was carve the space up into manageable pieces, allowing smaller, independent retailers to rent space. I believe that a major obstacle to retail in Bricktown – apparently unaddressed in the study – has been a lack of smaller retail spaces in Bricktown. Local, mom-and-pop style shopkeepers generally can’t say grace over 4,500 feet, 6,000 feet, 10,000 feet, yet often those were the only choices, as I think building owners have been hesitant to carve out 500 or 1200 feet for a small retailer, potentially eliminating an opportunity down the road to lease or develop a large contiguous floorplate. That is why we felt it was important to provide smaller, more manageable spaces, and even to essentially provide staffing services by centralizing the checkout.
Another challenge has been in finding the right product mix. The study mentions the importance of better understanding the market, and I believe that is key. Our first operation (Oklahoma’s Red Dirt Emporium) came about because for years we heard Water Taxi passengers asking for shopping that was authentically Oklahoman. We might not have never considered that product mix, or even a store itself, if we had not listened to what the market was asking for. This has also proven to be the case in the marketplace. Vendors who are constantly adapting their product mix to what customers already in the district are asking for thrive; those who do not don’t thrive. Bricktown has some natural advantage in already having a large number of customers. The trick is to figure out what they are interested in buying.
Question: Tell me about the addition of Signature Books and why you see that as an important addition to the marketplace.
Chad: Books of course are a great impulse item. Many of our customers are visitors, convention-goers, business travelers, and spouses of the same. We’ve been asked in the past if there is a good bookstore downtown, and unfortunately we’ve not had a place to send people. There are also quite a few locals who pop in at lunch, or after dinner or events, and lots of people love to hunt through a trove of great old books. We are thrilled to have a longstanding book dealer like Wayne take an interest in the marketplace, and think it will be beneficial to our mix, to his business, and to the locals and visitors who come into the store.
Question: How will the addition of Guestroom Records at the ACM add to the retail efforts along the canal?
Chad: It’s a natural with the proximity of ACM. You have students who are working on their own musical foundations, and they will now have a great place to discover new and old music that will influence them in their career. But beyond that, I think many travelers look for great record stores when they are visiting a city, especially in an urban area. When I visited New York City last year, one of the highlights of the trip was spending a considerable amount of time in Bleecker Street Records in the West Village. Guest Room is exactly that kind of record store, and I think it’s a brilliant stroke of luck for everyone concerned that they will be here soon.