A few posts ago I mentioned concern about how the transformation of retail might hurt the interesting cultural feel in Europe. However, after reading this article about how small towns might be the savior for retail, I am a little more optimistic.
There is no question online shopping will further transform the retail shopping model for some time to come. But maybe small towns give us an early clue to how everything will shake out. Perhaps retail will just get more focused – not a wide variety of shopping centers spreading a feeling of ‘Generica‘ throughout the country – but a focal retail center in every town, large and small. Perhaps each collection of retail centers will have a theme or specialty. Strip malls will disappear, with retail clustered around core centers of small towns or neighborhoods within large cities.
This central core would have more than just retail shops. Much like you are seeing shopping centers branch out into restaurants, gyms, and other service providers. I think it would be much more interesting to see neighborhoods within cities have a central core of unique combination of shops, and a place that can be the central gathering place for residents in the neighborhood. Europe has perfected this model, with the central town market square typically lined with restuarants with outdoor seating, with stores surrounding the central square. The further you get from the central square, the more it turns residential. We do see a flavor of this today in some neighborhoods (i.e. Fremont in Seattle) – perhaps the future looks like a lot more small funky neighborhoods and fewer strip malls and big box stores.
As our society becomes more virtually connected and physically isolated, a changing retail model might be the solution to bringing back a feeling of a physical community. The next waves of technology will be bringing even more social upheaval – perhaps those surviving physical retail stores will evolve and thrive in the coming new world.