Once again, kindly permit me to boost a comment to the marquee. Reader Dan Chandler posted the following in response to last evening's "What are 23 parking spaces worth?" I have only one observation: During the discussions of the past few days, we seem to see the emergence of differing theories of consumer behavior. Which are to be fluffed, and which to remain unfluffed?
Go to any mall such as Oxmoor, St. Matthews or Green Tree. The stores with the highest foot traffic are those along the main corridor, furthest from the parking. Space by the mall entrances, closest to parking, attracts fewer shoppers. The whole point of a mall is that each store get cross traffic from other stores’ customers. Enclosed mall space commands higher rents than strip mall space because customers walk past stores they otherwise would not have considered visiting, but visit they do. If each mall store had its own parking spaces, there would be no cross traffic customers.
The same principle works downtown. The more downtown merchants and restaurateurs insist that customers need not walk past other storefronts, the less they benefit from each other’s customers. Most downtown businesses will benefit by thinking of themselves as part of a shopping and entertainment district instead of cluster of unrelated businesses whose customers never cross.
Cross traffic is highest when the walking experience is most enjoyable. Historically, the mall had an advantage; part of the walk was past attractive storefronts. Downtown, much of the walk was past weed filled lots and boarded up buildings. The more pleasant the walkway, the more cross traffic will walk there. Mall operators know the importance of continuous attractive storefronts. Most mall leases contain a “lights out” clause that basically terminates the lease if the tenant closes the store, even though they continue to pay rent. If it’s not a pleasing environment, all tenants are hurt by reduced cross traffic.
So no, easy parking and foot traffic are not inextricably linked. Downtown has seen a business boom in the last five years despite no new parking. I don’t think this is coincidence. If you want isolated stores, you can get that anywhere; if you want a district, downtown NA offers something not found anywhere else in metro Louisville. Customers don’t like walking past places that are dirty, unattractive, loud or dangerous. So merchants, instead of making each other’s customers walk past bare concrete lots to get to your storefront, make sure your neighbor’s customers have an enticing trail to your storefront. Attractive facades do this. Attractive landscaping does this. Safe sidewalks do this. And calm, slow, quiet, two-way streets do this. These make places customers enjoy on foot.