2023’s Top 10 Retail Experiences: No. 5 Crocker Park

Chain Store Age picks physical retail’s most engaging centers
Al Urbanski
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Stark Enterprises gave Westlake, Ohio, its own deluxe downtown with Crocker Park.

Some 25 years ago, while walking the streets of Midtown Manhattan, Cleveland-based real estate executive Bob Stark scanned the rows of street-level shops topped by offices and apartments and wondered, “Why couldn’t we recreate this in a suburban development?”

And that’s what he ended up doing 10 miles west of Cleveland in Westlake. Crocker Park’s opening in 2004 laid down the game plan now being used by mixed-use developers nationwide: Don’t create shopping centers, create retail-based community centers.  

In a quiet suburb lined with corporate headquarters, Stark built the classy community its residents lacked. A Park Avenue-style main entrance leading to a roundabout directing visitors to different sectors. City streets lined with two-to-five-story buildings evoking different architectural styles hold apartments above and shops at street level. Green spaces, recreational areas, sidewalk cafés.

Crocker Park eventually blended into the community with a corporate headquarters of its own—American Greetings.

“We continue to integrate as much as possible into the community. The City of Westlake itself invested a couple of million dollars to create our Market Square section, where many couples hold their weddings,” said Bob Stark’s son Ezra, now CEO of Stark Enterprises.

For three years running, Crocker Park has been designated as the Best Kid-Friendly Shopping Destination by Northeast Ohio Parent magazine for its youth events program and tenants such as Urban Air and The Lego Store. Its largest visitor demographic is the 0-17 age segment, making up 21% of its audience.

At the same time, new tenants continue to flow into Crocker Park that engage across the demographic spectrum. Some 30 new brands entered the center over the last five years, among them Nike by Crocker Park, World Market, Pulpo Brewery, Pandora, Leo’s Italian Social, Vionic Shoes, and Warby Parker.

“It’s a constant evolution, a living, breathing organism. Human trends change and you have to adapt to them or people no longer feel that sense of place,” Ezra Stark said. “You have to create enough density and structure the parking and the city blocks to allow people to get lost in the center and feel that it’s their own place.”

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