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My face and name may be unfamiliar to you, but hopefully that will soon change. I have covered retail for decades, never retail real estate. But, I am happy to have landed in this spot. For, just as retailers need new traffic to thrive and grow, so do writers need new material, and this beat is rife with material.

Here’s what excites me about this space. It’s something I trust also excites — and perhaps scares — you retailers and developers out there. You are America’s new town planners. The desktop models of malls that once featured parking lots and retail pads now sport green spaces and high-end restaurants, hotels and amusement park rides, even post offices and municipal buildings. Shopping center developers and retailers of the 21st century are being given the chance to found America’s new downtowns. To design the magnet areas to which local residents will involuntarily be drawn. To draft the blueprints that will bring customers to your places of business.

You’re tasked with conceiving the sites where life itself takes place, not just shopping. Yesteryear’s store aggregators are today’s and tomorrow’s town-builders. That’s a heady notion and a weighty responsibility, and I’m honored to be here to chronicle the story.

I received intelligence on the subject from some learned folk I had the pleasure to speak with during my early tenure here at Chain Store Age. Here are some of their observations:

Jerry Hoffman, president of the Hoffman Strategy Group:

“There’s a sameness in malls. Go out to Park Meadows in Denver and, unless you have a GPS, you don’t know if you’re in Brookfield or Lone Tree. The more edgy ones reflect a more millennial population. You have to bring in a more urban vibe. It helps developers to build out a profession of urban planners, designers who begin to think very carefully what centers are going to look like and how people live within that dynamic.”

Jedd Nero, principal at Avison Young’s New York Retail Group:

“More people want to live in New York, shop here, visit here. They want to see things they can’t see elsewhere, like SoHo and Times Square. Times Square is the perfect retail market to talk about. So many of the retailers [there] are entertainment and experientially oriented, and that’s what we’re going to see more and more of in every neighborhood. Right now, it’s food and beverage, things like food halls. But customers get spoiled very quickly, and you have to be on top of new trends and new technology.”

Melina Cordero, head of retail research for the Americas at CBRE:

“From a retail perspective, it’s all about critical mass. In an era where people don’t have to go to the store to get something, it’s more and more important for retailers to be located where the people are, to be there on their way to work, on the paths they are walking.”

So, all you future town founders, I hope you’ll find it in your interest to share with me your ideas and blueprints for the new Retail America you will build. Now get back to work. You’ve got lots to do.

You can follow Al on Twitter at @AlUrbanski or email him at [email protected].

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