The Irony of 21st Century Retail Development
So, a week ago I was driving up to the Barnes & Noble in Lancaster, PA when I noticed a fellow holding a sign on a street corner advertising the local Kmart was going out of business and offering up to 60% discounts on merchandise. I’d seen someone with the same sign a while back and was thinking it could make good fodder for a blog so I took a photo of him. Then, about a block away I drove past a woman with a sign advertising the appliance and furniture store, HHGreg going out of business and discounts were being offered by as much as 30%. I pulled into the Barnes & Noble Parking lot and walked up to the sidewalk where the woman was standing. She agreed to let me take her photo with the sign.
As I was taking the photo, I realized something truly ironic. Behind the woman, on the other side of the street, they were developing a huge retail space that will be called Shoppes at Belmont (SAB). SAB will be 365,000 sq.ft. of retail and dining that will include such notables as Target, Whole Foods, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Nordstrom Rack, Michaels, Lane Bryant, OshKosh B’gosh, Norman’s Hallmark, Finch Jewlers, P.F. Changs, Chick-fil-A, MOD Pizza, Ulta Beauty, and of course, Starbucks. Wow! Again, just down the street a 127,000 sq.ft. Kmart is going out of business and across the street the local HH Gregg is going out of business, turning another 32,000 sq.ft. of retail space dark.
I have come to learn the Kmart’s woes started in 2003 when a Walmart opened up less than a quarter of a mile away. The Lancaster HHGregg is one of 88 stores that company is closing. So, it’s not just local, retail across the board is hurting.
Given all of this, can someone please tell me how a developer could get another retail center approved in a place where retail is obviously failing? They are building 365,000 sq.ft. of retail in palce where 159,000 sq.ft. of retail is going dark. What the . . . ! I believe Jim Quinn of the blog, The Burning Platform said it best in an interview with James Howard Kunster, [speaking of retail] “first they saturate, then they cannibalize.”
When I lived in Los Angeles, I would have been happy to see a Whole Foods setting up shop close to me. But here in Lancaster, when I want farm fresh, organic vegetables, meats and other edibles, I simply walk down to The Lancaster Central Market and on any given Tuesday, Friday or Saturday, I can find all that and more served up by local farmers and retailers. I would like to note that Lancaster’s Central Market is the oldest continuously operating market in the United States. It has been there for 275 years and in that building for the last 120 years. In addition you can see in the rendering, there is a Weiss food market just across the street from SAB. I wonder how long it will be before it is “lights out” for that enterprise. Another thing to consider is the SAB are being built on land, much of which could have been easily purposed for agricultural use. But, they are skimming off the precious topsoil to build more retail. Understand, no other land in the United States grows as much food – without irrigation – as Lancaster County does! Farmers provide food for the densely populated mid-Atlantic states. Hence, any loss of farmland can cause irreparable harm to the long term prospects for Lancaster County’s economy and cultural heritage.
Well at least the developers preserved the main barn and farmstead barn – AT ANOTHER LOCATION! And interpretive education will be provided where possible to discuss the heritage of the Mayer-Hass farmstead and the various elements of the property. Well, at least we will have that going for us. . . For those reading this article who feel as I do, that farmland should be preserved and development restricted to infill and repurposing of already built properties, I encourage you to check out the group, Respect Farmland A Watchdog Movement for Preserving Lancaster County. We won’t be able to stop the development of SAB or mitigate the impact those shops and restaurants will have on existing concerns, but we can prevent future shortsighted development.