Friday, February 27, 2009

Mill Valley special

Get yourself down to Mill Valley today, Friday, from 5pm - 8pm, where the local Chamber of Commerce is hosting a block party. Merchants along East Blithedale Avenue near Throckmorton Ave are participating. Look out for food and product discounts, giveaways and - wait for it - tours of new and expanded stores! Yes, you can actually go inside the stores and look around! It's completely free!

And if you need help on what to wear, check out the spring fashion special from Marin Magazine, which features Mill Valley locations.

More great news for Mill Valley, Eileen Fisher is to open a new store downtown.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Reasons to be Cheerful - Part One

So let's forget the recessionary doom and gloom for a moment and start the week with a good news story. And what better news could there be for Marin folks than the long-awaited opening of the mega huge Crate & Barrel at the Town Center Corte Madera. Before you get too excited, you need to know that the store doesn't actually open its doors until late Spring, but to get the juices flowing here are a couple of pics of the construction I snapped this weekend.
As you might be able to make out from the photos, the structural work is nearly complete and they are starting to finish off the services and interior walls. What you can't see is just how big the store will be. At over 18,000 sq.ft, the store will be much larger than the old store that closed in The Village in 2007, and will include the full C&B range, including a furniture department.
I have to say I am a little surprised by the external design of the new store, which is very sleek, square and modern. It's what you would expect to see on a C&B in a strip mall, but in the middle of the faux-tuscan Town Center it seems out of place (the 'before' picture above shows the old Shoe Pavilion store). I guess it's good to have variety and individuality in the mall architecture, but I just get a feeling that the square boxy-ness of the store might interfere with the center's Feng-Shui, which was a key ingredient in the design of the current center. It would be a shame if the new Crate, plonked down in the middle of the mall, blocked the flow of positive energy along the thoroughfare. The bad Chi could totally put people off their gourmet flatbread at Champagne Bakery...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Weekend News Feed

The Marin IJ agonizes about dowtown Tiburon becoming a retail wasteland (yes, there are a couple of vacant stores). And see the comments following the story to find out why the popular vote reckons the TPD is to blame. And a plea from Tiburon Town Manager Peggy Curran for residents to patronize their local stores.

Have you seen the Trader Joe's song on YouTube?

Sales are booming for Novato florists. (Okay, it was Valentines Day)

Ann Taylor Loft is smoking hot..

but there's no smoking at the Town Center Corte Madera..

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Bon Air Center

It's a rainy weekend in Marin and the malls are empty: shoppers are all at home or on the slopes at Tahoe. So this is a good opportunity for me to share a few photos of Bon Air Center in Greenbrae.
Bon Air is located on Sir Francis Drake Blvd, just to the west of Highway 101. It's a high profile location that is just about in the center of Marin, with great access from nearby Greenbrae, Kentfield and Larkspur. It's also on the main drag to the freeway for residents of Ross and San Anselmo.
The center is a simple strip facing a car park with a few pad sites. There are approx 50 stores, with the major store being Mollie Stones market, which occupies the mid point of the retail mall. Longs Drugs and quirky emporioum David M. Bryan anchor each end.
The popularity of the center is evident in the absence of vacant spaces: I didn't count a single empty store when I was there last week. Instead, there's a mix of old and new retailers, with plenty of independent boutiques, gift and art stores. There is also a decent selection of casual eating places, including the in-your-face Wipeout Bar & Grill, the more classy Cafe Z Epicerie and the traditional Fifi's Diner.
If you haven't been to the center it is definitely worth a visit just for the fun of discovering some unique examples of the kind of store that isn't supposed to survive in the modern retailing world. Take a look at the Secret Garden, the go-to place for bridesmaids dresses, or Stichbirds Needlepoint store. And for toys, Solaria's Toy World is the real deal.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Weekend news roundup

Construction update at Pacheco Plaza.

City of Mill Valley online survey asks residents and businesses what can be done to aid retailers in the city.

Video of the public meeting about the proposed redevelopment of Marinwood Village. Marin Maven gives a first hand account.

Mill Valley Market grows its own organic food.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

DeLanos vacates downtown Tiburon

Following the announcement of the closure of the DeLano market in downtown Tiburon, the burning question is what is going to happen to the vacated space. Does the DeLanos exit, which was as a result of weak sales, signal that there just isn’t enough of a customer base to support a supermarket? Or is this a potential opportunity for an operator that is more in tune with local residents' needs?

There’s no doubt that DeLanos was a poor performer. There were never more than a handful of customers in the store whenever I went in there. And driving by I always noted plenty of empty space in the car park. Comments from locals had the same theme: nice staff but average selection of merchandise and high prices. Customers appeared to use the store for top-up shopping – picking up a few items in between their weekly shopping expeditions to Safeway or Costco. The store always came off second best in comparison with the adjacent Boardwalk Market, which is also expensive, but wins on quality and selection of merchandise.

Adding interest to the story is the situation at the Boardwalk Market, with plans announced last year to kick out the current tenant in 2010, renovate the space and install the operator of Kentfield’s highly-rated Woodland Market. Barring any signed agreements or contracts, Woodlands must surely be considering now whether they should take the DeLanos space instead. That would leave the Boardwalk in place as an established competitor, which is a risk. But alternatively, if Woodlands does not take the DeLanos space, it leaves open the possibility that another quality operator will. Adding spice is the fact that both the Boardwalk and the DeLanos site are owned by the Zelinski family, which also owns most of downtown Tiburon .

The main questions that an operator looking at the DeLanos space will have to ask is whether the local market is big enough to support my store, and can I grab market share from the competition and hold onto it. In terms of market size, Tiburon is certainly big enough. There are approximately 11,000 people in Tiburon/Belvedere. Average household incomes are amongst the highest in the nation, at close to $300,000. Spending on food to take home is estimated at over $10,000 per household, so with 4,700 households there is approximately $50 million of retail sales available for supermarkets and other food stores. A 20,000 square foot market making sales of $600 per square foot, or $12 million per annum would make a tidy profit. That equates to a market share of 24% ($12 million out of $50 million), which is definitely achievable for a good operator.

In terms of competition, Safeway at Strawberry is the main player. The store is not in Tiburon, but everyone passes it on the way in and out of the peninsula. The Boardwalk has no doubt some loyal customers, but it isn’t that great and will lose sales to a top tier operator located directly across the street. DeLanos at The Cove is a minor player.

The taker of the DeLano box also needs to think about the competitive risk in the shape of new players entering the market, most directly in the shape of Woodlands opening at the Boardwalk in 2012, plus Whole Foods at the Alma Center in Mill Valley, which is easily accessible for Tiburon folks. To a lesser extent, Trader Joes will pull some Tiburon shoppers to its new store at Larkspur.

Current market conditions dictate that nothing is likely to happen immediately. In better times I would not be surprised to see a strong Bay Area operator such as Draegers of San Mateo seizing an opportunity like this to enter the affluent Marin market. But it does not have to be an “up-market” operator. Rich people can be notoriously cheap. A value player such as Fresh & Easy would do just as well. Unfortunately, although largely unheard of in the region, it would not take people long to work out that Fresh & Easy is a chain retailer, which makes it about as welcome in the community as a uranium reprocessing facility.

Watch this space.