In a City Determined to Up its Retail Game, the Answers are to Keep it Uniquely Local
A week before Coral Gables shut down most commerce to avoid the spread of the coronavirus, its Economic Development Department held a workshop at the Coral Gables Museum on the subject of making the downtown vibrant. A panel of four, run by retail consultant Midge McCauley (MM, far right), consisted of, from left to right, Books & Books founder Mitch Kaplan (MK), Pine Real Estate principal broker/owner Barbara Tria (BT), Maven Real Estate principal Marc Schwarzberg (MS) and Eating House chef/owner Giorgio Rapicavoli (GR). Here are some of their answers.
What is Happening to Retail Today?
MM: The coronavirus will probably take its toll of retailers and restaurateurs that have not been in a very strong position. [But] retail isn’t going anywhere. Retail is alive and well, it’s just changing. It’s getting smaller. Stores that were once very large are getting smaller.
What Must Retailers Do To Survive?
MM: Your retail experience has to be exciting, your customer service has to be outstanding, your stores have to look really great – and for restaurants your food has to be delicious – or you are not going to survive.
What About the Impact of the Internet?
MM: Shops have to have an online experience as well. But e-commerce also needs shops. They are finding that they need the physical presence of store. Online performs much better when you have a physical presence in the market. Nordstrom is a great example. Blue Mercury, a division of Macy’s, is another.
How Do You Feel About Small Business vs. National Chains?
MK: I am an advocate for small business. To see all those big companies out there deciding that they want to do “experiential stuff ” doesn’t mean a whole lot to me, unless you are a landlord who wants to rent to them… The only way to build a community is knitting together a bunch of people who are committed to the community.
Is Coral Gables a Good Place for Small Retailer to Start?
BT: Three things in particular stand out when we talk to retailers coming into our market. First, we have a very robust consumer base [50,000 residents, 50,000 daily workers, and over 700,000 people within a 20-minute drive]… Second, lower rents, though that will change over time… Third, we have transit that gets people here (metro rail, trolley, freebee). We were pioneers for centralized valet, and we have reasonably priced parking decks.
Why Did You Start Your Business Here?
MS: We were starting our families and looking for a shorter commute. We wanted to invest in Coral Gables, because we knew the city and its demographics.
GR: I wanted to make a neighborhood joint that was unassuming but where the food was creative and fun.
How Can Retail Do Better?
MS: It is important to have variety. [In our properties on Giralda Plaza] we have nine restaurant spaces. It has become essential to capture different markets – the weekday lunch crowd, the weekend dinners, etc. We are trying to bring in a stronger night life. Taco Coyo [a tenant] is a great example, with a lounge open in the back until 2 a.m.
BT: [You must improve] the design of a store front and the design of the interior space. The outside has to look good to get people into the space. But then your inventory has to be organized and creatively placed, and well stocked… You want to stroll around and discover things and experience things that you are not going to find somewhere else… What causes me to cross the threshold of a shop is the idea of discovery, something new, something different.