I have been thinking about the value of corner retail for a while, and gradually collecting photographs of corner retail in Sacramento. A Twitter reference also brought me to an article from last year by the Congress for New Urbanism, Public Square “Corner stores can anchor a neighborhood“. What moved me to post now, though, is the recent death of Calvin Yang, owner of the Sacramento midtown market, DJ Market. See Sacramento celebrates life of beloved midtown store owner Calvin Yang with vigil, memories. It really brought home to me how important these neighborhood, locally owned, small businesses can be to the community. They are a key part of livability.
Using the term corner retail, I’m not just referring to corner markets, but to any public-facing business on a corner. In the Sacramento central city, these include frame shops, child care, laundromats, barbers, coffee shops, bakeries, restaurants, bars, record stores, and many more. Though grocery stores or markets are probably the most important, it is the variety of small businesses that make it work. And I am going to claim that much of the livability of the central city comes from these having these businesses close to hand. It is part of the 15-minute city that I will post on soon. The main point of 15-minute cities is that everything you need on a day-to-day basis is within a walking or bicycling distance of where you live.
One of the things I will never understand is people driving to get coffee, and even worse, drive-through coffee. I’m not a coffee drinker, but I do go out often for tea. My favorite location is The Mill on I Street, not because it is the closest to where I live, but it is walkable and easily bikeable, and I really like the owners. I have said for years, long before coffee places became more commonplace, that the single greatest determinant of livability is the density of coffee shops. It doesn’t matter whether you go out for coffee, or make it at home, or don’t drink coffee at all, having one or more coffee shops in your neighborhood means you are in a livable, walkable place. Coffee places are not just places to get coffee, but what are called third places, where people can socialize and get to know their neighbors.
It is also relevant to me that these corner lots and small, often quite old, buildings cannot host a chain business, except in some cases what I’d call local chains, of which coffee places are probably the most common. A national or regional chain simply cannot compete in this local environment.
I’m not referring here to modern mixed use buildings that contain ground-floor retail, nor am I referring to commercial/retail blocks or clusters where there are a number of businesses. These are businesses on the corner, adjacent to largely residential. Though I certainly support those as well, they are not what I’m calling corner retail.
My apologies for the central city focus in the post and the gallery of photos. I live downtown, so it has been easy to get to these locations for photos. When I have the chance to get to the other important parts of the city, I will post again. I have probably missed a number businesses that should be in this central city gallery.
What is your favorite corner retail? How often do you go there? How important is it to you that these places exist? What other businesses would you like to see within walking distance of your home?
5 thoughts on “corner retail”
I agree, having retail within walking or biking distance makes a city more liveable and vibrant. In Tokyo, this is very commonplace with micro retail stores on the first floor and housing on top. Anyways, my favorite place within walking distance was Simpleton, but unfortunately they closed during the pandemic.
[…] earlier post on corner retail was in preparation for talking about an idea that corner retail should be acknowledged, supported, […]
Jane Jacobs said that a lot of businesses that make neighborhoods great won’t go into new buildings. Salons, cafes, galleries, boutiques, thrift stores, etc. can never afford the rent and do not necessarily want the vibe of a brand new building. Repurposing old buildings has become more common since her time, but I feel like we still see frequent examples of old buildings being knocked down, at considerable expense, for brand new buildings that are fit to be occupied only by banks, insurance companies, consulting firms, and national chain store eateries and retailers in the ground floor. Not that cities don’t need these. But everyone has seen a massive redeveloped area that looks bright and clean, but completely sterile and empty. I think Jane was right about neighborhoods needing diversity. As she also points out, neighborhoods with a monoculture of uses just tend to be unpleasant, unwelcoming, dysfunctional neighborhoods.
As an aside, when I started in planning, there was a sort of hero worship of Jane Jacobs, I think to the point of excess, and I always felt there was a misunderstanding of what she wrote, at least what I read of it in Death and Life of Great American Cities. She seemed to largely be complaining about a herd mentality in city planners, beyond the point of any reasoning or common sense. Paradoxically, I felt her work unintentionally inspired a herd-like following of would-be disciples that didn’t necessarily grasp one of her main points, that is, that design needs to fit the setting and context, i.e., there is no one-size-fits-all solution to urban design. Nevertheless, I think her writing itself was pretty insightful, and I still find myself thinking back to many of her observations and reflections.
As Downtowners, our most common businesses to walk to are Raretea in DOCO, the General Store & Deli on Capitol Mall, Market 5-one-5, Quickly (on 16th and U), and T4-Tea 4 U if Quickly happens to be closed. (Of those, at least Quickly, maybe the General Store & Deli, count as corner retail.) You can tell how much I love having 3 milk tea places within walking distance!! For me, the most important businesses to have walkable are the Post Office (near DOCO) and a grocery store (although prior to Market 5-one-5 opening, having a grocery store [Safeway] on lightrail was almost as good), but the tea shops sure are a nice bonus! As were the 5 weekly walkable Farmer’s Markets. But even more than the Farmer’s Markets, I’d say our most walked businesses pre-pandemic were the R St corridor of restaurants, “hipsters’ alley.” We ate out several days per week.
Oh, add school and work to my list of most important businesses to have walkable. I didn’t include them at first because they are essential walkables, not just important ones!