Retail consultant Bob Phibbs gives perspective on Main Street
Consultant offers main street advice
Q: You were in Oklahoma City last week for the National Main Streets Conference. What did you learn about Oklahoma?A: Wow, you guys have a vibrant city center — and wind! I liked all the restaurants in Bricktown and visited Cattlemen’s Steakhouse in Stockyards City. The Oklahoma City National Memorial was striking and an important reminder of how we stand on a lot of people’s shoulders to enjoy the lives we do.
Q: How are Main Streets changing across the country?A: There is a renewed emphasis on downtown because it is what gives each community its character. You don’t get that from a concrete, tilt-up big-box development. It’s no wonder the National Trust for Historic Preservation is behind the excellent Main Street program because America’s foundation for greatness has come from preserving the past. ... I teach that the key to any Main Street program is to remove the idea of "independent business” and understand it is "interdependent” businesses. Originally, Main Street had the saloon, the hotel, the livery, the general store, the church — all of the services — because they all needed each other. That interdependency is what spelled doom for so many downtowns in the 1970s and 1980s when they didn’t care what the other guy was doing. Now the best Main Street businesses understand, "if I close early, I could be hurting the very neighbors I depend on to make a living.” That’s what is so exciting about the Main Street program.
Q: Do you think retailers are less interested in having a presence on a city’s Main Street? A: I think it is important to understand big-box retailers have no use in being on Main Street — they want to be out on the interstates due to their huge tractor-trailers of stuff from China and acres of parking. ... Smart retailers will find they can do with smaller footprints in this economy ... so expect to see more variety and selection as America rebuilds its core. It won’t happen easily or quickly, but clearly with over a thousand Main Street programs across the country, it is gaining steam.
JENNIFER PALMER, BUSINESS WRITER
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