Coffee klatsch, from your doorway to mine.

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Across the country, retail is teetering on the edge of a precipice. It’s caught in a tailspin. It’s on the brink of complete disaster. I’m sure I could think of even better journalistic catchphrases, but I’m just not that inspired. And I’ve said it all before. Besides, business analysts are covering it nationally and locally. …Read more…

A power center turns over a new leaf, only to find more grubs.

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About a year ago I explored one of the few retail typologies that seems to be growing in prevalence during this turbulent era: the power center. It’s essentially the only physical construction that suburban retail developers are building these days. And they usually look like little more than a strip mall on steroids—which, apparently, is …Read more…

Fending off audits with smoothies.

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While it’s not every day that we encounter a business that whimsically combines two seemingly unrelated services, now and then you’ll stumble across that laundromat/nightclub or pet groomer/internet café (probably a bit more common before smart phones became ubiquitous). More often than not, these hybrid businesses recognize the opportunity to commodify multi-tasking. After all, why …Read more…

Setting bounds for the bail bonds.

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Imagine if you can that you’re in Frederick—Maryland’s second largest city (a distant second, after Baltimore). You’ve just passed through the resurgent downtown, where a variety of restaurants and specialty shops line Patrick Street, the primary east-west corridor. Now, as you make your way past the bustle, you encounter a few businesses that suggest a …Read more…

Lifestyle centers: with Saucon Valley, neither lively nor stylish.

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Now that the holiday season is long behind us, we can only hope to rebound from the latest wave of contractions among our perpetually ailing retail sector. You know what I’m talking about. After dismal holiday performances, chains like Sears, Kmart, and Macy’s announced a slew of nationwide closures.  Meanwhile, smaller, specialty retailers The Limited and …Read more…

In Mt. Adams, residential infill gets the old spit ‘n shine.

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Residential infill development can—and often does—fail to integrate architecturally with the neighborhood that surrounds it. And that’s okay. Far more important than adherence to a certain vernacular is the physical form of the house. When looking at the front of the home square-on, does the layout emphasize a front door, a porch, a garage, or …Read more…

Mall department stores: will the last one please turn the lights out?

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We’ve been hearing and witnessing for years the turbulent state of American retail. Conventional sellers of durable goods—of housewares, sporting goods, electronics, and clothes—have suffered in general, and malls have suffered in particular. But even more salient have been the struggles of the historic department stores to our malls. Scarcely a week goes by when …Read more…