A 4,000 sf Staples store in Watertown, MA
located right in heart of the traditional business district.

The buzz towards ‘small boxes’ continues! A recent Wall Street Journal article [“As Big Boxes Shrink, They Also Rethink”, Wall Street Journal] covers the trend among big-box retailers who are shifting to smaller stores, including Best Buy, Staples, and Office Depot, among others. For Commercial District Managers, the implications of this trend are significant. First, the trend towards smaller stores suggests that retailers will be looking for spaces that are more compatible with the kinds of spaces available within traditional commercial districts. For example, Staples is testing a 4,000 sf store in downtown Watertown, MA that carries 1,200 of the typical 8,000 items carried in a larger Staples. For smaller downtown districts with a decent office worker population, this model would be a great fit, allowing businesses and office workers the ability to make convenience purchases for the office. As one reviewer of the Watertown store mentions “I needed an ink cartridge and some paper – and I needed them QUICK” and the Staples store fully met her expectations. A small office supply store is the kind of addition to downtown the tenant mix that make traditional business districts more compelling. The article also mentions that Office Depot is testing a 5,000 sf concept. And the “Best Buy Mobile” concept is even smaller, at 1,420 sf (the average Best Buy is almost 40,000 sf).

There is another long-term trend to take note of here. As we all know, shoppers are choosing to spend more and more of there discretionary income on-line. As a new parent with severe limits on my time, I have to admit I am one of those people. And as I become more comfortable shopping on-line, the more I tend to shop on-line. It’s a vicious cycle. As more and more shoppers like myself become comfortable purchasing on-line, it will take alot more to get them to visit a shopping district than it did before. Increasingly, the onus is on us to improve the overall shopping experience. That means ensuring that the district is at the very least clean, safe and attractive and that there are reasons to go to the district besides shopping, including interesting events and activities. These are all things that cannot be easily replicated by an on-line shopping experience – and where traditional business districts will always have an advantage.