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?