The prospects for retail space

Arthur C. Nelson, author of Reshaping Metropolitan America, projects that between 2010 and 2030, nearly 80 billion square feet of nonresidential space will be replaced or redone in the US. Retail structures have a short lifespan, he points out. The rapid obsolescence opens substantial opportunities to build retail in a more walkable, mixed-use, transit-supported fashion. Nelson doesn’t think retailing will make a huge shift to the Internet—at least not enough to make physical retail space a thing of the past. Web-based retail sales, even after increasing by more than 10 percent a year between 2002 and 2012, “still accounted for less than 5 percent of all sales” last year, he notes. At this pace, e-commerce will account for under 13 percent of retailing by 2030, and, he says, “I do not expect much if any reduction in retail space demand in the United States. Some retail activities defy e-commerce, especially restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and beauty salons. Moreover, the best way to comparison shop is by seeing, touching, and in some cases, trying on the goods.”

Note: This article is from the March 2013 print issue of Better! Cities & Towns.

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