Saturday, February 20, 2010

Marin Country Mart signs first new tenant

The first new retailer at the Marin Country Mart (formerly Larkspur Landing) will be a transplant from new owner JS Rosenfield's Brentwood Country Mart.

Malia Mills is a swimwear designer who has a small number of boutiques, most of which are in New York. This is what to expect from the Marin store, which is slated to open this spring:
We opened our own Malia Mills stores especially to redefine the experience of shopping for swimwear. We strive to create a shopping environment that is anxiety-free and liberating. We want women to enjoy the experience as much as they might enjoy treating themselves to new shoes or lipstick. We can't afford the biggest stores but we make our cozy spaces look more like a living space so you feel comfortable when you're getting undressed.

Read more on the store blog.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Friday news update

Some of the Marin retail news buzzing around this week. Bonus points to anyone who can match the correct story to this picture.

As reported in the Marin IJ, CVS won approval to take over the former Elephant Pharmacy store at 909 Grand Avenue in San Rafael.

The Square in Novato is caught up in a downward spiral, with more retailers planning to vacate the center following the closure of DeLano's market last year. The loss of customer traffic and the presence of an undesirable element hanging out in the car park were cited as key reasons.

Eddie's Ross Grocery store has been bought by the owner of Kentfield's Woodlands Market.

In Corte Madera, Napa Style has closed its store at the Town Center. Over the highway at The Village, Brookstone has closed, but Elegant Living Furniture is soon to open.

The Twin Cities Times chronicles the latest plans for transforming Larkspur Landing Shopping Center into Marin Country Mart. Details are pretty light, save an intention to hold farmers' markets, flower shows and pony rides. Also interesting to note some of the owner's proposals that were denied by the Larkspur Planning Commission, including the construction of a 40 ft water tower and an entrance gate to charge for parking.

Tough times at the Farmers' Market

An interesting article in the Wall Street Journal today about the problems facing some farmers' markets in the Bay Area. The growth of farmers' markets has been one of the great success stories of the last few years, prompted largely by increasing public awareness about and concern for the quality and origination of their food.

Marin currently has 12 farmers' markets (a list is here), with the biggest being the Sunday market at the Civic Center, and other new markets are planned, such as the one proposed for Marinwood Plaza. But as the WSJ reports, there are not enough customers to support all the markets, so income for the farmers is falling to a level where it is not worth their while setting up their stalls. The problems caused by an over-saturation of farmers' markets in Marin were highlighted last week in an op-ed piece in the Marin IJ by the Marin Agricultural Institute, which organizes farmers markets in Marin.

The WSJ reveals that there is (or was) good money to made at farmers markets:

Amber Balakian, a fourth-generation farmer from Balakian Farms in Reedley, about 20 miles south of Fresno, has experienced the deteriorating economics firsthand. Her family sets up shop at the San Francisco Ferry Building farmers' market on Saturdays. While they used to ring up sales of $10,000 per trip, there are so many other markets drawing visitors away that "now we make half that" at the Ferry Building market, she says.

This past year, Ms. Balakian, 24 years old, drove more than 200 miles each week to a one-year-old market held in a Whole Foods parking lot in Mill Valley. The market started at 9 a.m. each Friday, so Ms. Balakian often arrived the night before and spent the night in a hotel before selling the tomatoes, peaches and carrots her family grows on its 75-acre farm. On a good day, she sold about $3,000.

But Ms. Balakian recently tried selling at farmers markets in Pleasanton and Los Altos, where "we didn't make enough to cover our expenses," she says. She adds that she sold "maybe $500" in produce at the Los Altos market.

Let's hope that we keep supporting our local farmers' markets. But as organic and local produce catches on with mainstream supermarkets, and additional permanent organic markets open (such as the new Whole Foods in Mill Valley and Novato), we may see fewer farmers' markets operating in Marin in the future.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sausalito - Bridgeway South

Below are a few more photos from my tour of Sausalito. This set covers the southern part of Bridgeway, from Horizons Restaurant to the intersection with Princess Street, and including the stores on Princess Street itself.

It's a mix of cafes, boutiques, art and gift shops, most of which are independent, or mom & pop stores, though there are a couple of national chains, including Starbucks and Benetton.
There are only one or two vacant stores in this part of the town, and many of the retailers have been present for many years. The architecture is an eclectic mix that includes older style single storey retail units, some modern additions, such as the arched-roof 660 Bridgeway, and converted residential buildings, where small boutiques occupy what looks like someone's front room.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The party's over for Party America

It looks like it's time to sweep up the confetti, pack away the party poppers and haul out the trash. The Party America store at Cost Plus Plaza in Larkspur is soon to close it's doors. A victim of the recession, you ask? I'm guessing it's more likely a victim of the success brought by it's busy new neighbor: Trader Joe's.
I don't know what rent Party America was paying, but I reckon it's way below the $42 per square foot the owners are asking now. For a shop this size (3,700 sf), that's one of the highest NNN asking rents in the County, and too much for the party people to afford.

So who would take this on? For the whole unit, Walgreens would be my bet. As I mentioned last year, the space may end up subdivided. Then we might get a Starbucks, Panera Bread, or a good local version like Larkspur's Rustic Bakery.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

West Marin has a retail sector too

Think of West Marin and you think of rolling hills and wild beaches, with some farmland, a few small villages and a lot of national parkland. And while West Marin contains more than half of Marin County's land, it is home to just 3% of the county's population.

The size of the retail sector is quite small. According to the West Marin Chamber of Commerce's business directory there are 14 retail stores in West Marin, with a similar number of places to eat and drink (for some reason this list doesn't include any stores in Bolinas or Stinson Beach).

Small grocery stores and services provide for the everyday needs of the population, with a larger number of gift, art and produce stores catering to tourists and other visitors. For larger purchases, most residents travel to the malls, markets and shopping centers in the population centers in the eastern part of the County.

And I didn't just make that last bit up: I took it from a study published last year. The West Marin Taxable Retail Sales Analysis, published by the California State University, Chico, set out to quantify the amount of retail sales that leaks out of West Marin to other areas. Using sales tax and census data, and employing an input/output modelling approach commonly used in economic development studies, the report reckons that West Marinites spend 80% of their retail dollars (or $200 million) outside of the West Marin area. The other key finding is that visitors to West Marin provide an estimated 73% of the sales at retail establishments in the area, with locals providing just 23%.

The study is being followed by a survey of local residents, designed to find out where they shop and why. Then it will be up to local organizations, such as Think Local First of West Marin, to make sense of the findings and put a plan into action to preserve and maybe expand the role of local retail businesses in the West Marin economy.