THE Bishop Arts District has done more to get northern local dwellers to go south of Interstate 30 than possibly anything in the history of modern Dallas.
And you may have noticed friends suggesting you meet to shop or dine around Lower Greenville and Henderson Avenue more lately.
While these Dallas streets have been popular with locals for a while, now they’re being recognized nationally as a draw on a par with places like Los Angeles’s Silver Lake neighborhood, Chicago’s Logan Square and Brooklyn’s Sunset Park.
Bishop Arts District and Lower Greenville are among the Top 100 “Cool Streets” in the US and Canada, according to a new report from commercial real-estate service firm Cushman & Wakefield.
We’ve always had “high streets and main streets,” but new cool streets are emerging and are on their way to becoming mainstream, said Garrick Brown, vice president of retail research at Cushman & Wakefield.
The phenomenon indicates that the next megacycle of retail is in full swing, Brown said, and if big retailers ignore it, they do so at their own peril.
Millennials are turning streets into cool districts faster than boring, homogeneous malls have sent shoppers online.
What makes a street cool
THE report is based on demographics and other characteristics, including walkability, access to public transportation and the number of locally owned or unique stores.
Other regional cool streets that made the list are East Austin, Houston’s Lower Westheimer/Montrose, San Antonio’s Pearl Brewery District, Tulsa’s Blue Dome District, Oklahoma City’s Paseo Arts District and New Orleans’s Warehouse District.
These areas have a more than a few things in common.
They are populated by midpriced apparel, accessories and home stores that are tapping into the millennial consumers in a way that mainstream midprice retailers haven’t, Brown said.
Cool streets are often long-standing bohemian enclaves for local artists and musicians or LGBT communities. But the renaissance in nearly all of the cool streets has been driven by new retailers, Brown said.
Cool streets gain momentum through social media, which is playing an immense role as a form of word of mouth, Brown said. “Traditional marketing just isn’t as effective with millennials.”
And the millennial attitudes toward cars also is shaping these areas.
“All the cool streets have a high level of walkability,” Brown said. People live near the cool streets.
“It’s a huge part of the millennial urban ethos,” he said. “They’d rather pay a little more for rent than own a car.”
The rise of dozens of what the report calls edgy retail districts are almost all organic and are suddenly attracting a flood of interest from the traditional developer community, Brown said.
In Oak Cliff, two developers have projects in the works that bookend the Bishop Arts District. And developers of mixed-use projects, such as Legacy West, which is under construction in Plano next to Toyota’s new US headquarters, are trying to duplicate the ambiance of cool streets.
Desire to stay small
IN the Lower Greenville/Henderson area, like-minded small chains expanding to Texas such as Planet Blue and Kit & Ace and online retailers Bonobos and Knot Standard mix with homegrown retailers such as Bullzerk and Gypsy Wagon.
Carley Seale, owner of the ‘Gypsy Wagon’ on North Henderson Avenue, sells apparel and home and gift merchandise at a broad range of prices. She opened her first store in 2007 with the goal of creating a shop with a sense of discovery, that’s off the beaten path, and where shoppers can find a gift for under $30.
She wants to keep her business small, but gets calls from developers daily. In 2012, she opened a store in Crested Butte, Colorado and, in 2014 opened her third store in Austin.
“It has to be a place I can relate to,” Seale said. “I live in Lakewood. Henderson and Lower Greenville feel like a hub, a crossroads, a meeting spot for a lot of different demographics in our city. That’s why I keep our price selection broad.”
More stores have arrived since Seale opened: ‘Esther Penn,’ a Fort Worth women’s apparel boutique, opened on North Henderson in February. ‘Melissa Beng Collection’ opened in 2013 and just opened a second store in University Park’s Snyder Plaza.
Her attitude, she said, is “the more the merrier.”
Vynsie Law, co-owner of the Bishop Arts District store called ‘We are 1976,’ first opened on Henderson in 2009 during the recession. “People were so open to what we were trying to do,” she said. ‘We are 1976’ moved to bigger space in Bishop Arts in 2012.
“We’re a small family business, and people in the neighborhood want to support our business,” Law said. “We have classes in graphic crafts in addition to selling merchandise.”
‘We are 1976’ also wants to stay small and has no plans to open a second store, she said. Law still lives in East Dallas and frequents Lower Greenville-area neighborhood stores and restaurants.
Effect on big retail
WALL Street and investors first put pressure on retailers to open stores, and now there’s pressure on big chains to close stores.
“This is something that Wall Street doesn’t get,” Brown said. It’s expensive to buy out leases, and sales from closed stores aren’t easily recouped, he said. “But big retail needs to experiment too.”
“Incubator retail concepts and startups and privately owned companies don’t have clueless Wall Street looking over their shoulders,” Brown said.
A big expense for new retailers is rent, and that’s cheaper on emerging cool streets, Brown said.
Bishop Arts District monthly rents range from $18 to $42 a square foot vs. triple that in a North Texas Class A mall of $120 to $160 a square foot and as high as $200, Brown said.
Online is too easy now and experimental retail is at the core of staying interesting, and that’s why we’re seeing more online retailers like ‘Warby Parker’ and ‘Marine Layer’ opening stores, Brown said.
Chains experimenting with new concepts in incubator neighborhoods could be the salvation for a lot of big struggling retailers, he said.
“If many don’t change, they’re in a death spiral.”