Sunday, April 9, 2017

An Opportunity for the Arts (Maybe) as Retail Finds Itself in Deep Trouble

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on................."

The American retail industry continues to take big hits.  Increasingly, shoppers are moving online.  Not everywhere or for everything - yet, - but more and more the trend is away from bricks and mortar shops.  Maybe it's the ease and convenience - particularly in a world where we seem to all have less and less time to do the work that needs to get done.  And while shoppers still like to hit the stores when they can - especially for certain items like apparel stores are closing, downtowns, suburban areas and even malls have more and more shuttered, empty spaces.  Rents are coming down, as more retails are either in bankruptcy or nearing it.  And the retailers being hit range from the hip and trendy to the old stalwarts.

According to Bloomberg:

"The rapid descent of so many retailers has left shopping malls with hundreds of slots to fill, and the pain could be just beginning. More than 10 percent of U.S. retail space, or nearly 1 billion square feet, may need to be closed, converted to other uses or renegotiated for lower rent in coming years, according to data provided to Bloomberg by CoStar Group."

Consider this:

"Urban Outfitters Chief Executive Officer Richard Hayne didn’t mince words when he sized up the situation last month. Malls added way too many stores in recent years -- and way too many of them sell the same thing: apparel.
“This created a bubble, and like housing, that bubble has now burst,” he said. “We are seeing the results: Doors shuttering and rents retreating. This trend will continue for the foreseeable future and may even accelerate.”
Year-to-date store closings are already outpacing those of 2008, when the last U.S. recession was raging, according to Credit Suisse Group AG analyst Christian Buss. About 2,880 have been announced so far this year, compared with 1,153 for this period of 2016, he said in a report.

And not surprisingly, Amazon is far and away the catalyst of the trend:

"Even brands moving aggressively online have struggled to match the growth of market leader Inc.
The Seattle-based company accounted for 53 percent of e-commerce sales growth last year, with the rest of the industry sharing the remaining 47 percent, according to EMarketer Inc."

So what has that got to do with the arts?

It might be an opportunity for us.

We might explore a pilot program to see if the arts might do the same thing for malls and vacant retail space, whether downtown or in suburbia, that we have succeeded in doing for the revitalization and reinvention of some downtown areas across the country.  Arts organizations and artists might find a way to negotiate cheap rentals - perhaps supported by local government programs - for their being an attraction for people to come to the remaining retail space neighbors.  Artists and organizations looking for affordable space in an increasingly expensive real estate landscape might succeed in this situation where they bring with them multiple ways that might attract shoppers - from exhibitions to performances, to a vibrant arts ecosystem that is attractive to the public.

To go shopping and see artists at work, perhaps talk to them, watch rehearsals, maybe see performances, interact with arts education programs, poetry slams, dance companies, film makers and on and on might be a very attractive lure to the public.  And that might help retailers. And this might be a golden opportunity for us to target Millennials, even younger people, and to build public will in support of the arts.

It might be possible to negotiate some support for this kind of an effort from some of the major retail brands who are being threatened by the growth of Amazon and the online shopping presence.

And as more artists and arts organizations might occupy some of this space, in some instances it might grow into the spaces becoming de facto cultural centers.

It won't work everywhere, but it might work in some areas.

It's just a thought, but it seems to me our artists and our organizations need affordable work spaces, and venues to sell their product; we need new and expanded audiences; we need to interact with the public more directly beyond our normal channels,;the retail industry needs help in reinventing bricks and mortar shopping so it will attract shoppers; and the commercial real estate industry needs occupants and to stem the tide of the closures.  Win / Win?  Maybe.

I think this may be a possible opportunity for us to investigate and explore and I hope some funders will seed a couple of pilot programs along these lines to see if it might be something of benefit to us.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit