Steak ‘n Shake: nostalgia comes around full circle.

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The average Midwesterner will probably recognize the icon visible through this smudgy windshield. But he or she might not be so familiar with the aesthetic.As the white-and-black sign indicates, it’s a Steak ‘n Shake—a leading candidate for the most Midwestern restaurant out there…right up there along with Bob Evans. The chain, which survived numerous ups …Read more…

Have fun. Violators will be prosecuted.

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It’s a serene setting: a community park in the verdant, affluent borough of Glen Gardner, New Jersey, population 1,700.The park is almost as obscure as the borough itself, which consists primarily of a main street that runs parallel to the lightly traveled Route 31, with a creek and a thick wall of trees separating the …Read more…

Alpha, New Jersey: The town the freeway DIDN’T destroy.

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Stretching 144 miles from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to the Holland Tunnel just outside Manhattan, Interstate 78 is hardly among the longer limited-access highways in the country. And, while certainly busy, I’d imagine plenty other freeways out there link a greater number of major population centers than I-78. Elsewhere in New Jersey, the Turnpike unquestionably carries a …Read more…

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…

Sitting on the property, banking on its value to rise.

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Despite the seismic cultural and political shift that typically takes place every four or eight years, Washington DC has enjoyed a growth trajectory that surpasses most other US metros. In the first ten years of the 21st century, the region grew 16.4% –fourth highest among the ten most populous metros, and it proved particularly resilient …Read more…

Undone by the dome.

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Strolling through the town of Bowman, North Dakota last summer (which is how one gets around if one finds oneself in Bowman…obviously), I came across a pretty slick looking geodesic dome home. We see these from time to time. After all, they were quite the fad for a few years, peaking around 1970. While I …Read more…

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