Monday, November 26, 2007

Killing Off Main Street Retail.

The heyday of downtown Dayton and Main Street was well before my time, but it was an interesting exploration rebuilding the street using old city directories and a base map from the 1950s, as well as my knowledge of when certain buildings went up.

One of the urban legends of Dayton is that I-675 helped kill retail downtown.

The following study proves that to be false.

Staring out with the retail mix on Main Street through time

Then taking a closer look at what I call “mall retail; the type of shops one usually finds in a shopping mall or larger strip center: men’s, women’s, and general clothing stores, shoe stores, jewelry:

Aggregating the clothing retail and then inserting a trend line. The expected trend from the 1960s was clearly downward, but the five years after the Dayton Mall opened in 1970 really dropped retail downtown.

Then some key urban renewal and new construction projects helped destroy what was left of downtown shopping. The Arcade Centre project (intended to “rescue” the Arcade) helped kill off retail on the 3rd-4th block. Courthouse Square, The Gem Savings bank and the Citizens Federal tower along with the renovations at and around the Victoria wiped out retail on Main north of Third.

So one can see retail being killed off well before I-675 was opened. Downtown retail was essentially dead by the time the new shopping centers and malls opened off 675 in the early and mid 1990s.

Taking a look at three key blocks, 1st to 2nd (Victoria and Lazarus block), 2nd to 3rd, (Courthouse Square), and 3rd to 4th (Arcade Centre), one can see how big drops after the impact of the mall was because of specific projects and buildings clearing out storefronts

(the graph line shows how “mall retail” faired on each block. In some cases there was a lot of other kinds of businesses, too).

An example of how urban renewal helped drive out retail is the Donenfelds womens wear store. Originally located on west side of Main just south of Lazarus, across from the Keybank Building, the store was forced out by the Court House Square urban renewal, to the 3rd-4th block. Then the Arcade Center urban renewal came to displace the store again.

Instead the store closed.

The bitter local struggle over I-675 in the 1970s(worth a blog post of its own) was partially driven by the city wanting to preserve downtown. But by then the die was already cast.

Urban renewal efforts just completed the job, bringing to mind the 1960s Vietnam war catch-phrase: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it”. Maybe the planners, architects and developers were thinking they were helping, but they were just nailing the coffin shut by the type of development that was put in.

Or maybe the type of redevelopment was a tacit acknowledgement that storefront retail opening to the sidewalk was a lost cause so why bother designing for it.

In any case, by the time the first big I-675 shopping centers started opening around 1990 it was all over for Main Street.

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