Downtown Richmond is a long way from having enough residents to attract big retail.
That’s according to Blount Hunter, head of the H. Blount Hunter Retail and Real Estate Research firm, who participated Tuesday in a discussion on how to bring retail downtown.
“There are 10,000 residents downtown,” he said. “That’s a village. What kind of retail would you expect to find in a village of 10,000 people in Hanover County?”
For example, Hunter said attracting a Banana Republic store would require more than 20,000 residents with a median income over $74,000 per year “spending every single dime” of their clothing budget at its store to justify a location downtown.
Hunter, who spoke at a breakfast meeting of the Greater Richmond Association for Commercial Real Estate, said Richmond should focus on building up a thriving downtown and that retail would naturally follow.
In the meantime, he said, Richmond should focus on boutique “experiential” shopping models, such as La Difference on 14th Street, rather than on big national chains.
Veteran retail broker Connie Nielsen of Cushman & Wakefield | Thalhimer said she thinks a mix of national and local tenants would be right for the downtown retail market. Nielsen said that the office market should be able support more downtown retail but that light foot traffic, public transit issues and blight have deterred retailers.
La Difference owner Andy Thornton also spoke on the panel.
Thornton said offering people something they can’t find online would bring shoppers out.
He did express frustration with the lack of retail that supports the business community.
“I think Manchester would be a great location for a nice shopping center, maybe with a Staples,” Thornton said. “I mean, there are 70,000 people who work downtown. Where the hell do you find copy paper?”
Nielsen responded, saying, “I actually represent Staples, so sorry about that.”