Thursday, February 7, 2008

Larkspur Landing Shopping Center

Larkspur Landing residents will get a new place to stock up on groceries when Grocers Landing opens its doors at the Larkspur Landing Shopping Center. The retailer is currently fitting out one of the vacant units at the eastern end of the mall. According to its website, the store will include gourmet and prepackaged foods.

Larkspur Landing Shopping Center has always struggled to establish its retail identity. It currently has an eclectic mix of stores, eateries, service providers and commercial offices that don’t quite gel.

The center is located off Sir Francis Drake Blvd, just east of the 101 intersection. It is the main component of a mixed-use zone which also includes Century Theatres, a Marriot Courtyard and several garden-style apartment buildings. It is linked by a pedestrian bridge to the Golden Gate Ferry terminal.

There are several separate one and two storey buildings at the center, most of which are clustered around an outdoor pedestrian mall, which contains a nice fountain and is a pleasant spot to sit and have lunch on a sunny day; although there always seems to be a cold breeze blowing through the mall whenever I’m there.

The largest space is occupied by Bed Bath & Beyond, which took over the 42,000 sq.ft box vacated when the original supermarket moved out a few years ago. The other key tenants are Marin Brewing Company, Noonans Bar & Grill and 24-Hour Fitness. Aside from some other eating and drinking places (Starbucks, Tam Cellars, Tha Siam) the remainder of the mall has little to offer, with quasi-retail uses such as AAA travel, a Yoga Studio, beauty salon and several vacant stores. And even though the car park always seems full, the mall is almost always empty. On a midweek afternoon you’re more likely to see tumbleweed than shoppers rolling along between the stores.

The Landing was designed as a grocery-anchored neighborhood retail center. Problem is there’s hardly any neighborhood for it to serve. Neighborhood centers need 10,000 people living in their primary trade area. The Landing’s primary trade area is constrained by natural and man-made barriers: Highway 101 to the west, the Bay to the south, the hills to the north and San Quentin to the east. Less than 1,000 people live in this pocket of land.
I wonder how the developers expected this center to work? Did they think the ferry commuters would stroll over to shop there on their way home? Maybe they anticipated a greater density of new home development in the area. Or perhaps they imagined the 5,000 “residents” of San Quentin State Penitentiary would provide a loyal and regular source of customer traffic.
Without a local customer base, the only businesses that can trade successfully at the center are destination stores, such as the Marin Brewing Company and Bed Bath etc. These businesses are well known throughout central Marin and they work fine, albeit in isolation. We all get the BB&B 20% off coupons in our mail every month, stuff them in our kitchen draw until the next one arrives, then forget to take them with us when it’s time to buy towels.
Destination retailers don’t need to co-locate with a critical mass of other retailers, which is why you find them on stand-alone sites with good visibility and car parking. People drive up, go inside to do their thing, and then leave. Destination shoppers are not there to wander around and browse at nearby stores; hence the vacant units at The Landing.
Perhaps if a major destination grocer – Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods – had taken the ex-Albertsons space instead of BB&B, the rest of the shopping mall would have kept busy enough to keep the stores trading along the mall, the non-retail uses out and the vacancies down. But Trader Joe’s has plans for a new store at the nearby Cost Plus Plaza, and Whole Foods has committed to the old Albertsons site in Mill Valley.

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