Joel's Jambalaya #6.5: The Death and Life of Terrible American Retail
Good morning Jambalaya reader,
This is a special mid-week edition to share an astonishing fact that I recently learned.
Too. Much. Retail.
Have you ever driven down a generic suburban ring road and thought to yourself: “Wow, there sure are a lot of big stores here!”
It turns out that feeling is correct. There are a lot of stores. Too. Many. Stores.
Here’s the statistic that bears this out:
Europe has about 2.5 square feet of retail space per capita.
The United States has 23.5 square feet of retail space per capita.
Not a typo - that’s almost 10 times more retail space per capita. No wonder all those malls are dying!
Either every western European country (and much of the rest of the world) has far too little retail, or the United States has far too much.
In Europe, there are two main types of retail: the hyperlocal (What I call “Neighborhood Retail”) and specialty.
The hyperlocal stores are the essential places you need to go every day, or nearly every day.
The specialty stores are the stores you only need occasionally, or are only for certain people. They serve a wider area. Things like restaurant supply stores, some specialty clothing stores, medical specialists, niche stuff like that. They really only exist in big cities.
Here’s an example:
My wife is from the town of Vessem in the Netherlands. The population was 2,175 as of 2007.
The modestly sized town nevertheless has plenty of retail for just about everything its residents need: two grocery stores, bakery, doctor’s office, dentist, brewery, drug store, car dealership, inn and bar, several restaurants, bank, school, gas station, salon, and on and on.
Ironically, in the U.S. we have removed all of these neighborhood businesses from our neighborhoods, while trying to put four of every specialty store in every city.
We Need Different Models
What I am proposing and trying to create more of in the US is no different - mostly self-sufficient neighborhoods or villages that are well-connected to other mostly self-sufficient neighborhoods or villages. Building on the basis of more “Neighborhood Retail” is not only more sustainable, but much more pleasant to live in, and better socially and financially for its residents.
Oh, and it just makes a lot of sense. Put the businesses you visit every day nearby? Well, I never!
Enjoy the rest of the week and I’ll see you Sunday,