When a regional mall was built outside Boulder, Colo., in 1963, the town’s downtown retailers could have waived the same white flag that was flown in similar situations across the country.
But instead, the downtown retailers banded together, formed one of the country’s earliest business improvement districts and survived the onslaught of modern malls. The resilience of retail in downtown Boulder was one of several city case studies presented as downtown developers, land owners, planners, business executives and architects recently met to learn how Oklahoma City can create its own urban retail success story. Jane Jenkins, director of Downtown Boulder Inc. and incoming president of Downtown Oklahoma City Inc., told a Feb. 4 gathering of the Central Oklahoma chapter of the Urban Land Institute and Commercial Real Estate Council that the key to downtown Boulder remaining a successful retail hub was the town’s loyalty to local retailers. About 85 percent of the downtown’s retailers are locally owned, compared to just 15 percent owned by national or regional chains. "Boulder has a passion for all things local,” Jenkins said. "They opened a Borders in 2000 ... and they picketed the store.” Jenkins said the key to her downtown’s success, beyond local retailers, included "good man-made design” that added landscaping, street furniture, period lighting and interactive children’s activities in the heart of the retail district. "They can play on rocks or stone animals and there are fountains,” Jenkins said. "We are a great place for families to be.”
The next stepBoth Jenkins and Kourtny Garrett, senior vice president of marketing, agreed downtowns must employ a full-time manager to promote retail in the same way a manager is needed to oversee a shopping center. Margaret McCauley, a national consultant with Downtown Works, urged Oklahoma City to consider taking an even more aggressive step by hiring someone to just recruit retailers downtown.