Page E1.2 . 16 May 2012                     
ArchitectureWeek - Environment Department
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Designing the Neighborhood Retail Center


The neighborhood center's primary anchor is a full-sized supermarket, typically 45,000 to 60,000 square feet (4,200 to 5,600 square meters) in area.

This anchor is the commercial engine that supports most of the center's other, smaller businesses, so much so that when a supermarket closes, many of those businesses will immediately suffer sharp declines in sales and be forced to close or relocate. National retailers often have opt-out clauses in their leases that allow them to leave the center if the anchor closes.

The International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) and Urban Land Institute (ULI) define a neighborhood center as follows:

A neighborhood center provides for the sale of convenience goods (foods, drugs, and sundries) and personal services (laundry and dry cleaning, barbering, shoe repairing, etc.) for the day-to-day living needs of the immediate neighborhood.

It is built around a supermarket as the principal tenant and typically contains a gross leasable area of about 60,000 square feet (5,600 square meters). In practice, it may range in size from 30,000 to 100,000 square feet (2,800 to 9,300 square meters).

Most neighborhood centers are between 50,000 and 70,000 square feet (4,600 and 6,500 square meters) in total area, which includes the supermarket. The center can be planned in a variety of formats, including the linear strip, L, U, double-reverse L, or market square plans.

The depth of a center's inline retailers ranges from 30 to 80 feet (nine to 24 meters), with most of the tenants requiring 1,200 square feet (110 square meters) of GLA. A 20-foot-wide-by-60-foot-deep (six-meter-wide-by-18-meter-deep) module is the most commonly used store dimension. Neighborhood centers are almost always constructed on concrete slabs without basements or attics.

The supermarket and other anchors are usually rectangular in plan, with their widest elevations facing the primary parking area. For example, a 50,000-square-foot (4,600-square-meter) supermarket is usually 180 feet deep and 280 feet wide (55 meters deep and 85 meters wide). Recently, however, some supermarkets have been adopting less regularly shaped floor plans, such as Copps in Middleton Hills, Wisconsin.

To generate pedestrian traffic throughout the center, the supermarket — whatever its floor plan — should be placed as close to the middle of the neighborhood center as possible. In most cases, however, supermarket management will insist on an edge location for better visibility and to reduce shared parking.

Except for dense urban centers, the economics of most suburban neighborhood centers presently require surface parking with an overall blended ratio of 4.0 to 4.5 cars per 1,000 square feet (93 square meters) of the entire center's gross building area.

Presently, supermarket anchors often require parking ratios of 4.5 to 5.0 cars per 1,000 square feet (93 square meters), with most of their parking located near their front entrance. Lower parking ratios may be sustainable in suburban locations in the future as land use and consumer trends evolve.

To be economically sustainable, a neighborhood center needs 6,000 to 8,000 households within its primary trade area. In a suburban setting, the trade area is within a one-to-two-mile (1.6-to-3.2-kilometer) radius and its residents, on average, will shop at the center once or twice a week.

In rural areas, the trade area is much larger, and it is not unusual for residents to drive over 25 miles (40 kilmoeters) once a week to shop at a neighborhood center. In high-density urban areas, neighborhood centers may have trade areas of less than half a mile (0.8 kilometers) or even a few blocks.

Center Hierarchy

The center's primary anchor — the full-sized supermarket — usually pays lower rents than the inline smaller retailers. In exchange for the discounted occupancy costs, the anchor will purchase considerable media advertising to attract shoppers to the center.

Neighborhood centers have, on average, 10 to 15 smaller retailers, such as a bagel shop, bakery, bank, bike shop, card shop, restaurant, coffee shop, dollar store, dry cleaner, electronics store, eyewear retailer, family restaurant, financial services office, florist, food market, frame shop, hardware store, home furnishings retailer, ice cream shop, jeweler, laundry center, mail center, package liquor store, personal services store, pharmacy, tanning salon, telephone store, and video rental shop. Recently, apparel, sporting goods, and shoe store chains have successfully opened stores in neighborhood centers.

Since the success of the neighborhood center depends upon the performance of the supermarket anchor, the site plan, location, and view sheds for the supermarket should be well planned. The center will be more sustainable and less susceptible to losing market share if it is located on the homebound side of the intersection of two major crossroads. In most locations, the supermarket should be easily visible from the primary roadway.

In strong market areas, some supermarket owners will accept reduced primary-road visibility for their stores after an initial three- to five-year period. Supermarkets tend to specialize in specific market niches, such as low price, high quality, organic, or meat-oriented. This specialization can result in more than one supermarket locating and being sustainable at the same intersection.

Recently, community, regional, and lifestyle centers have started recruiting supermarkets to ensure a steady stream of shoppers and to mitigate the detrimental effects of economic downturns.

In the past, well-known fashion and home furnishing retailers avoided co-tenancy with grocery stores out of fear that it would harm the quality of their brands. Grocery customers tend to shy away from extended apparel or gift shopping because of the perishable nature of groceries. This trend is beginning to change, and fashion and home furnishing stores now recognize the benefit of regular exposure to grocery shoppers, especially those who frequent upscale grocers such as Whole Foods.   >>>

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Robert J. Gibbs, ASLA, is founder and president of the Birmingham, Michigan-based Gibbs Planning Group. He has consulted on more than 500 public and private town center projects around the world. A frequent public speaker on topics of urban planning, Gibbs spoke at the first Congress of the New Urbanism and has spoken at eight subsequent CNU conferences. He also teaches "Retail Planning and Design Principles," a course for Harvard University's Executive Education Program.

This article is excerpted from Principles of Urban Retail Planning and Development by Robert J. Gibbs, copyright © 2012, with permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons.



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Small owner-operated businesses tend to be most successful when they focus on specific market niches and keep their overhead low. A fish market in St. Andrews, Scotland, is shown.
Photo: Robert J. Gibbs Extra Large Image

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Well-managed year-round public markets can substitute for supermarkets. The individual vendors sell specialty goods, and tend to offer higher-quality foods and services when multiple vendors compete to sell similar products. This public market is located in London, Ontario, Canada.
Photo: Robert J. Gibbs Extra Large Image

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The 750,000-square-foot (70,000-square-meter) Easton Town Center in Easton, Ohio, opened in 1999. It is part of a larger mixed-use development that includes office space, residential areas, hotels, and large-format community centers.
Photo: Gibbs Planning Group Extra Large Image

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Large-format stores can be developed in historic downtowns and new urban shopping developments by wrapping the street frontages with small retailers. This format allows the anchor to have direct access to a parking lot or deck as well as the adjacent street.
Image: Gibbs Planning Group

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The Market Square shopping center (circa 1916) in Lake Forest, Illinois, aligns retail shops in a U shape around a small town square. The center opens to a primary street and a commuter train station.
Image: Gibbs Planning Group

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Because small independent retailers depend on impulse shopping trips, their business can be harmed by poorly chosen tree species that block storefront views.
Photo: Gibbs Planning Group Extra Large Image

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Urban shopping villages and towns, such as this one in Ireland, rely on convenient on-street parking and passing vehicular traffic for their livelihood.
Photo: Gibbs Planning Group Extra Large Image

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Principles of Urban Retail Planning and Development by Robert J. Gibbs.
Image: John Wiley & Sons


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