On the Ave: Retail Outside the Box

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VINELAND, N.J. - I’m sure that at least some of you have read or heard about some of the iconic big-box store chains that are closing stores in malls throughout the country. My purpose is not to closely analyze that situation, but it’s interesting to compare and contrast that situation with downtowns—with ours in mind.

The chains are closing stores for several reasons. Online shopping has put a huge dent into making purchases at brick-and-mortar stores. You can get what you want within a day or so without leaving the comfort of your home. Some of the chains haven’t been able to keep up with newer, more modern chains that have greater variety and inventory. Customer service in the larger stores has become more of a problem as they have had to downsize and eliminate employee jobs.

All this has led to large, gaping holes in malls and shopping centers—retail meccas that, a couple of decades ago, were bustling with customers being able to shop for everything under one roof. The malls and shopping centers have had to think creatively to make up for this loss, often reinventing themselves as mixtures of retail and other types of businesses. Even that, however, is reaching the saturation point in some places.

Downtowns are certainly not impervious to such changes in buying habits and business trends. Downtowns that once flourished gave way to the malls and shopping centers. The downtowns then staged a comeback, thanks, in large part, to Main Street organizations throughout the country. Even downtowns, however, have to negotiate the twists and turns of business trends. They can do this in a number of ways and we, at Main Street Vineland, are doing just that.

We can—and are—refocusing our attention on different age groups. While baby boomers and seniors make up a large share of the focus of our retailers, we are now adding millennials, Gen X, and Gen Y to that mix.

In doing this, downtowns like ours are making, as part of their change of focus, a change in branding. Here in Vineland, where we used to “cruise The Avenue,” we are now rebranding our downtown “The Ave” to attract that new mix—that multi-generational mix that is needed to sustain a downtown.

Downtowns can also “go with the flow” of changing buying habits by making the shopping experience more experiential. Customer service in many big-box stores, as I’ve said, is less existent than it used to be. By shopping online, you have to, pretty much, fend for yourself. The smallness, intimacy, and atmosphere of downtown stores, however, can add to a positive, memorable customer experience. Of course, downtowns like ours can and do also provide many other services, other than retail. We thus have the flexibility to keep our downtown healthy and thriving. Come down to The Ave and see for yourself!

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You’ll certainly want to come down to The Ave for our next Downtown Merchants Meet-and-Greet—on Thursday, February 2, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. It’ll be at one of the crown jewels of The Ave, the historic Landis Theater, at 830 E. Landis Avenue and the public is invited and urged to come. In addition to tours of this magnificent performing arts center, DJ Zach from NJ Premiere DJs will be on hand with great music. You’ll have a chance at restaurant gift certificates, courtesy of Secure Insurance Services. We’ll also show again the video about the rebranding of our downtown that was shown at last year’s branding party.

So, come one, come all!

For more information on Main Street Vineland, call 856-794-8653, visit TheAve.biz or check them out on Facebook. You can also send e-mail to Swanson at rswanson@vinelandcity.org.

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