Friday, July 20, 2007

More to life than food?

Even as a foodie, yes.

I love good food. Therefore, one of my biggest joys of living in the Grid is all the new dinning options we have seen pop up over the last few years, in particularly the independent stuff.

High end, low end, squab and sweetbreads, shu mai and chicken feet, sashimi and sake, burgers and fries, pizza and beer, $5 a dish, $40 a dish, I have no bias...other than chains restaurants...okay, and chicken feet. I usually shop at chain stores for clothes and such, but chains are just not what I prefer.

There was an article in the business journal today regarding the Firestone Building and how California Pizza Kitchen, Flemming's Steakhouse and an Irish Bar will be joining the mix. I love the Irish Bar, I could see myself going to CPK once in a while (though I hear there is a new pizza place opening at 16th and Q by a guy moving here from Italy in the near future), and I don't see myself going to Flemings often at all.

The article also mentions how local places do much better in downtown and midtown, and chain better in the 'burbs. I definitely agree with that, but at the same time considering the amount of hotel space and the convention center within 3 block, I think these two will do fine.

It's a matter of personal choice, but here is the bigger question and issue I have and has been brought up many times by me and many other people, including Ron Gilliland, owner of Lucca.

"You can't just have restaurants in every building. There's got to be some boutiques or stores -- or something else."

At what point do we start seeing more clothing, shoe, music, book stores, small markets, cheese store (I won't lump the previous two in with restaurants), yarn and flower shops come into the mix? To really build neighborhoods where people really live, work and play, we need to see all these come together. The "play" in "Work, Live and Play" involves more than just restaurants.

Midtown has a nice mix with some good success stories, even though it's somewhat scattered and I'd like more places that stay open later for some after dinner spending or window shopping. With most of the new projects being built now, we only see restaurants in the retail spaces.

Obviously, opening a new restaurant in the Grid is much less of a challenge than it was a decade ago (even the not so good ones seem to be doing fine), but what would it take for retailers, chain or local owned, to achieve the same success restaurants have seen? More people would be one thing.

The Grid has become a destination for people to come and enjoy food, thus pulls from a larger area, not just nearby residence. Shopping is just not there yet.

Just like with what happen with restaurants, it's going to take a few to make that leap, have success and the rest will follow.

Anyone out there feeling froggie? Anyone heard of anything potential coming down the road?


wburg said...

"At what point do we start seeing more clothing, shoe, music, book stores, small markets, cheese store (I won't lump the previous two in with restaurants), yarn and flower shops come into the mix?"

When rents drop.

Anonymous said...

LIUS- Totally agree with this issue. My guess is that restaurants are a good way to get the ball rolling, and that retail can follow. But that's just a hunch. If you look at the 18th and L corner, you've got some retail in the form of 58 degrees wine shop, the bling store (whose name escapes me) those bead stores, the Paris store, Zanzibar, and the florist.
Still, I wonder if we have a bigger problem caused by a chain store mindset and the internet. Le Petit Paris (for instance) is a great store, very specialized, high quality, and unique. And it's always EMPTY. As are a lot of those retail establishments down there. Lets not even talk about record stores.

That said, I agree with you 100%. Maybe the new Crystal Ice thing will help.

LivingInUrbanSac said...

Rents are part of it, but I don't think it's that simple. Restaurants (even non-chain) can handle most rents since they do so much volume, even though they are notorious for low profit margins.

I think just as equal a concern for retailers, if not more, is the revenue side of the equation.

LivingInUrbanSac said...

"the bling store (whose name escapes me)"

Beyond Gotham?

Yeah, that area around 18th and Capitol has a nice mix of tenants. When I was down there is past Saturday the streets were packed with people (for Second Saturday) All the stores in the area had a ton of customers in them.

"Still, I wonder if we have a bigger problem caused by a chain store mindset and the Internet."

That's a good point. Like the article today said, I believe the independents will having have an easier time in urban areas, versus the burbs. And vis versa to a degree. A few chains that have opened around my place have done terrible. They aren't even open any more past lunch anymore, yet all the independents in the same area do great . Put those chains in your typical Sacramento strip mall and I bet they are packed every night.

SacUrbnPlnr said...

Lots of visitors generated by the restaurant scene is a good start to create a critical mass that can support more retail options. For retail to really bloom in midtown/downtown, however, we will need thousands of new middle- and upper-income households with disposable income to spend.

Right now, the downtown/midtown area is in the beginning stages of its residential renaissance. While proposals have been floated for tens of thousands of new dwelling units (between downtown, midtown, the railyards, the docks, Richards Boulevard, etc.) the number of new units produced AND OCCUPIED thus far has been a small fraction of that amount.

Have patience--Sacramento is definitely building momentum. It will take time, however, for Sacramento to fully realize its potential.

LivingInUrbanSac said...

SacUrbnPlnr - It's funny how when ever we get into topics like this, it really does come down to that one area...More people with money to spend will make the biggest difference.

midtownguy said...

I recall hearing about a small shop/market going into the 1801 L project, but nothing ever materialized. Anyone know what's going in that empty corner? It is a great section of midtown, but I think it's close to saturation in terms of restaurants.

LivingInUrbanSac said...

Yeah, I remember that. It was supposed to be a "European-style" convenience store with international newspapers, fine chocolates and cigars."

moabmark said...

I grew up in Los Angeles (Not my choice: That's where my parents moved to from Wisconsin and Europe) and the hot places to hang out were Westwood, Santa Monica, Hollywood and Venice. The first two had movie theaters, restaurants, book stores, record stores and boutiques. The second two had music clubs, record stores and restaurants. In the intervening 20 years, giant Internet sites have taken book stores and record stores out of the mix because they just cannot survive. Boutiques and live music venues are always marginal businesses. But all people must eat. So restaurants are always a go-to proposition. Sacramento needs more than restaurants, to be sure, but it seems all the other uses are marginal. Perhaps the other storefronts will be coffee houses with Internet connections or wine bars, which, when you think about it, are a lot like restaurants. There is no easy fix to the problem, but it seems that entertainment, in whatever form, is the match that will find a niche that is profitable enough able to pay downtown lease rates. Perhaps the other solution is ground-floor residential, which at least might put some people on porches to take care to make sure their neighborhoods are safe.

wburg said...

I would argue against the idea that bookstores, record stores and boutiques are too marginal to exist: fact is, go to any lively city and you'll see all three, frequently in independent forms. The problem isn't competition from the Internet, but overly high rents due to an insufficient number of old buildings capable of supporting that sort of business. Get rid of old buildings too fast and you kill off local business and street-level vitality, leaving a city with only an open-air mall and a bunch of chains.

We're starting to see a trend in Sacramento of this sort of business moving into spaces that currently have less appeal--like the location of Beers Books into a Buzz-box on S Street. I still think they would have made a great tenant for the Firestone building (an early idea tossed around but rejected): by adding a second level they would have approached, and perhaps exceeded, Powell's Books in floor space.

But, aside aside, I think that local boutiques and independent stores other than restaurants are a very important mix. I'd also disagree with the previous poster's basic premise: everyone must eat, but there is no reason why we have to do so at a restaurant. Ask anyone who has run a restaurant: they are a high-risk, low-margin business, and too much competition can easily sink a restaurant.

Anonymous said...

chicken feet? does this mean there's a new dim sum joint downtown? where?

LivingInUrbanSac said...

I wish there was a new Dim Sum place opening...I was just making referance to how I love all foods.