Friday, May 29, 2009

News in brief

Some retail-related news stories kicking around this week:

Marin County retail sales in the fourth quarter of 2008 were 14.1% lower than the same quarter in 2007. Novato's sales were down 7.1%. (That's taxable retail sales) Source: the Quarterly Sales Tax Update prepared for the City of Novato.

The City of San Rafael is to complete the Environmental Impact Report for the proposed Target superstore, even though the project is on hold. Source: Marin IJ

The Tavern at Lark Creek will open next week (June 3rd), replacing the Lark Creek Inn. According to the blurb, the Tavern will offer "a seasonally driven menu that highlights elevated crowd favorites. Main courses will be under $15". Sounds great - unless you're the nearest competing restaurant in the under$15 category, which just happens to be the Yankee Clipper, also owned by the Lark Creek Group...

The Marin IJ sent a reporter to the community meeting for the North Redwood Boulevard Corridor and found a surprising degree of consensus: Yes to a new hotel (because it will create tax revenue); Yes to narrowing Redwood Boulevard; Yes to large format retailers; but No to the proposed Walgreens.

Northgate is leading the race to adopt social media. The mall now has a Facebook page to go with it's Twitter account. Unfortunately the mall is still under serious renovation, so to make up for the absence of stores, it is posting some delightful photos of piles of construction rubble.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Downtown Novato Community Workshop

If you have an interest in the future shape of downtown Novato, make sure you go along to the Community Workshop tomorrow (May 27) to review the North Redwood Boulevard (NRB)Planning Study.

The NRB corridor encompasses the majority of the downtown area, from Grant Street northwards as far as Atherton Avenue. The area currently has a mix of land uses, including residential, automotive, retail and industrial buildings, and some vacant and unused lots. In March the City of Novato released an Options Study (large file) that discusses the constraints and opportunities for development in the area. One of the key items on the agenda for tomorrow will be how to promote new retail/commercial development in the area without compromising the viability of existing downtown businesses along Grant Avenue. It will also be interesting to hear views on the impact of the decision not to position a SMART railroad station in the downtown area.

For me, the biggest opportunity to revitalize downtown Novato is to develop more medium/high density housing. Housing creates activity and vitality and supports the development of retail and commercial businesses. It needs excellent planning, to overcome the conflicts with existing non-residential uses, and specific issues in the area, such as freeway noise and flood zones. And it really needs great transit. But with the SMART budget already $150m in deficit, the chances of getting that downtown station back on the agenda are looking slim.
The City of Novato has put up some alternative plans for development of the corridor on its website here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Store of the Week

Yesterday I checked out a few recently-opened stores in downtown San Francisco. I was expecting to see some vacant spaces as more retailers fall victim to the slowdown in consumer spending, and there were certainly a few around, including the Gap store at Post & Kearney and Ann Taylor on Post Street. The Crocker Galleria has always had a few empty spaces, and looked like it had recently lost the Malm luggage store.

But it was great to see several new stores around Union Square. Here's a few to check out next time you're in the area:

ILORI at 238 Post St for sunglasses - they had an extensive range from the top designers.
7 for all mankind for limited edition jeans and more at 224 Grant.
Tory Burch has been open a few months at 50 Maiden Lane.

But the Store of the Week award goes to Paul Smith at Grant & Geary. This is the kind of store that will get you excited about retailing. The product is innovative, fun and cutting edge, and the presentation is inspiring. I found a review of store and an interview with Smith here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

H&M moving forward with Northgate store

According to the IJ, fashion retailer H&M is moving forward with plans to open a store at the renovated Northgate Mall in San Rafael, and has submitted tenant improvement plans to the City for approval.

H&M has been getting a lot of good press recently with its limited edition ranges from major fashion designers. The Mathew Williamson collection nearly caused riots in some stores last month. However, most stock competes in the Gap / Zara / American Apparel price range.

The addition of H&M is in line with the teen-market positioning of the fashion component of the revamped mall, but is not news. The leasing plan released last year by Macerich identified H&M as the proposed tenant of unit 129 (view the current leasing plan on the mall website, but with store names now removed) in one of the largest specialty store spaces, at 14,200 square feet, with a 12,800 sf mezzanine level.

Other stores to look out for, according to my copy of the original leasing plan, are A&F's Hollister in unit 014; Forever 21, proposed for unit 139; American Eagle Outfitters in unit 078; Aeropostale in 074; Charlotte Russe in 145; and Wet Seal in 151.

On another note, it looks like Northgate is the first shopping center in Marin to start Twittering! You can follow them here.

Attack of the acid wash

Insight from the WSJ today on how retailers like Macy's are pursuing customers of bankrupt rivals such as Mervyn's. Apparently, they are adjusting their product mix to target the local market, using techniques such as this bit of fabulous ethnic stereotyping:
Retailers are getting help from manufacturers eager to cut their own losses. Levi Strauss & Co. recently advised its West Coast customers how to take advantage of Mervyn's closing. Robert Hanson, Levi's president of the Americas, said the company urged retailers to buy smaller sizes and more "extreme finishings," such as acid washes, to attract Mervyn's Hispanic customers.

After yesterday's quote from Mi Pueblo Foods about men working and women shopping with their kids, it looks like we can add political correctness to the list of casualties of the recession.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mi Pueblo heading to East San Rafael

Mi Pueblo Foods, a Bay Area hispanic grocery store, is aiming to take over the old Circuit City store on Bellam Blvd in East San Rafael. According to the North Bay Business Journal, the store submitted a planning application to the City at the end of March and there will be a hearing at the City May 19th.

Juvenal Chavez, CEO of Mi Pueblo explains what the store is about:

Mi Pueblo’s competitive advantage comes from high standards for operational efficiency, respectful service and store environment as well as a selection of products that is sensitive to the interests of a given community and cultural distinctions between Hispanic consumers. That means understanding how color and decor cues differ between the states in Mexico and with southern Mexico, Central and South America.

Also, included in store design are large inside and outside areas that provide gathering places for groups of men who work or live together as well as women with children while shopping.

Employee training also is key to the appeal. The 200 or so employees to be hired for the San Rafael store may come in without a lot of skills, but they will learn how to meet cost targets for each department as well as how to win each customer with common courtesies such as looking them in the eye.

Great to see new businesses entering the county and taking advantage of opportunities as underperforming stores close.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

San Anselmo (continued)

Some more photos of San Anselmo. All of these were taken on San Anselmo Avenue, which is the town's main street, located just to the west of Sir Francis Drake Blvd where it meets Red Hill Ave. San Anselmo Ave. runs along the infamous San Anselmo Creek, which is responsible for most of the interesting events in the town's history, as it tends to flood every few years, most recently on new years eve 2005.
The Avenue has around 80 retail stores and eateries, with a good mix of old style services (barber shop, watch repairs), a few ancient-looking boutiques and specialty stores (Chadwicks of London, Vintage Flamingo) and old & new antique and home furnishing stores (French Nest, Studiolo). Other stores worth seeking out include Rosetti (Italian notebooks), Kismet (ladies boutique), Fig Garden and the new Primo Regali (ceramics).

Monday, May 4, 2009

Northgate Mall's makeover taking shape

At last the scaffolding has come down around the first phase of Northgate Mall's renovation. And the Macerich team have kindly posted some new photos of the work in progress on the mall's website.

The retro/industrial warehouse look is evident in the photo below, which shows the renovated eastern mall and the existing Gap store. (Click on the picture for larger version).
The US Bank has some nice brick detailing. Shame about the ugly black windows.
I'm liking the new entry adjacent to the Century Theatres.

Here's the food court, complete with chairs and tables, but no sign of any eateries.

Another view of the eastern mall, next to the Macy's entrance I think.

Follow the link above to the website for more pictures. And here are some of the previous pictures.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

San Anselmo images

As anyone who lives in the area knows, San Anselmo has one of the best main streets in the County, with a wonderful mix of retail stores and eateries, almost all of which are independently-operated. I've been guilty of neglecting the town for too long, so this week I will post a few photos and try to get to know the place a little better.