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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Why Retail?

A reader recently posted this comment - 'why the emphasis on retail?'

I thought it was a good question and deserved a response. First let me say that I don't believe that retail development should be the number one priority for any community. When I go down the list of things that I want in a community I would prioritize (and in no particular order) a strong public school system, safety (low crime rate), and location among other things ahead of retail. On a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 is excellent I would rate Fort Thomas very high if not excellent on each of those other factors.

With that being said the one thing that sticks out like a sore thumb is the lack of basic retail services (I am not suggesting that a town the size of Fort Thomas have every service available at our finger tips) such as a gas station, grocery store or bakery. The recent announcement that BP is returning to the corner of Highland and Grand is helpful. So here are my reasons why retail is important:

1. Support local owners - this is a two-fold consideration. First I would much rather put dollars in the pockets of neighbors and fellow citizens for basic services rather than a large national chain that is publicly traded and partially owned by investors a world away. Secondly, more retail supports the existing businesses we have in Fort Thomas. Warner's is on an island of offices along the central business district - how much more likely are people to spend dinner time at Warners if there is an ice cream shop next door for dessert or a coffee shop next door that has live singer song-writers that people can enjoy after dinner? Current business owners need complimentary businesses to stay open past 6. The more foot traffic past a store front coming home from dinner or after a night of drinks with friends the more likely they are to stay open during that time.

2. Avoid driving to a neighboring community - I am not against supporting other Northern Kentucky or Greater Cincinnati communities but sometimes I want to keep my car parked in the driveway and would rather walk up the street for a bite to eat or a drink with friends. Having more common meeting places encourages community. There is also more tax support for the local community. How many tax dollars have the residents of Fort Thomas donated to the city of Newport in the past 5 years? These are real dollars that support schools, improved roads and sewers, and preserves green spaces.

3. Combat the perception (that's right perception) that retail can't survive in Fort Thomas

4. Demographic shifts demand more local retail - there are many forces that are working in our community including a shifting demographics with younger families moving into the area, higher gas prices and environmental concerns are driving more people to look closer to downtown (we are a safer alternative to moving downtown).

5. Foster a sense of pride in our community - Fort Thomas residents are very proud. Proud of Highlands football, our neighbors, our low crime rate, our location, our children's academic accomplishments, possibly of even being a cake eater. What do we have to be proud of when it comes to retail? Empty store fronts, lack of access to basic purchases, and empty parking spots don't exactly create a sense of a community that is alive.

6. Increasing housing prices - this leads me to the impact on home prices. Fort Thomas is a beautiful place and with or without retail it is an attractive community but in our era of convenience we lose out to surrounding communities because of the lack of the most basic of retail. Real estate is a business of supply and demand and there are many factors that drive demand for housing in Fort Thomas that have already been mentioned - lets add retail as another component that makes Fort Thomas an attractive place to live.

In closing I wanted to offer one more perspective. The following is a segment of the Cincinnati Gentleman Magazine where Steve Leeper (read the second page), of 3CDC in Cincinnati, provides an impassioned plea for a change in perception of downtown. Cincinnati has its own issues and by no means am I implying that we are similar and the focus of Steve's point is safety but many of the same points about perception and creating a well-rounded community apply to this discussion.

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