Sunday, May 15, 2011

Retail Hopes and Dreams for Laveen

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but let's face it, Laveen faces an uphill battle with regard to desirable retail expansion into the area. We absolutely cannot take for granted all of the reasons we know, intrinsically, that Laveen should be more attractive to retailers. We may know the story, but do they? No, they do not. We're barely on the map for most retailers and our reasons for appearing on the map -- we must admit -- are often as much for good reasons as bad ones in the commercial real estate sector.

I'm inspired to finally write another blog post on this subject after responding to a facebook link from my friend Erika, regarding her renewed campaign to request Trader Joe's for the area. Add to this the fact that it's a Sunday afternoon and, as soon as our toddler son awakes from his nap, we will be headed out for our weekend shopping excursion to Costco, Trader Joe's, and maybe then to Grandma's house for dinner. This is a recurring theme for weekends that we're in town. We easily spend 50-75% of our grocery budget outside of the community in any given month because we simply cannot find the groceries we really want closer to home. And we know we're not alone -- many of our friends do the same thing, either traveling east toward Tempe, as we often do, west toward Avondale, or northeast toward Biltmore/Arcadia (our alternate choice if we're in the area). That's a whole lot of retail leakage, and it doesn't even account for all the big ticket items people buy outside the community.

And therein lies the problem, right? We make it too easy by driving to these retailers rather than making them come to us. Sure that's part of the story -- the easily explained minutia part of the story. The other part of the story is the real challenge we face, which is one of demographics and reputation. According to current measurements, which still mostly lack 2010 Census information, we boast very unimpressively average demographic numbers across the board (with a few exceptions that I'll discuss in a future post). But many of them are solidly above average, even if only a little bit, and we know that they tend to be stratified in ways that have yet to be fully analyzed. I would even go so far as to argue that there's gold in them thar' hills of data. For instance, even if we will never have the assortment of trendy restaurants that Old Town Scottsdale or downtown Phoenix boasts, can you imagine being the first to open one in Laveen? Or the second?

[Insert insensitive commercial investment truism that "pioneers get slaughtered and settlers prosper," which is the only reason I bring up being the second rather than first. That said, we know that Laveen boasts some notable exceptions to this rule.]

Better understanding our situation and helping others to do the same is the path to growth for Laveen. Yes, there is a ton of opportunity here and, as I've asserted before, it will be realized by some savvy investor(s) sooner than many people think. But we cannot go blindly forward without also taking note of our challenges. Take for instance our empty retail space: I adore the shopping center at 35th and Baseline, but I'm tired of hearing the braggadocio about its design as long as it sits mostly empty. Seriously, talk about a white elephant! I'd love to own such a beautiful and well situated center, if not for its cash flow problems (and again, I argue that its only real hope is a seriously discounted sale by the bank). Likewise, let's not forget about the failing Mervyn's shopping center or the persistent vacancies and business failures everywhere in Laveen besides 51st and Baseline. And please do not take for granted Terrazona's tireless efforts to bring in LA Fitness, which I still say was a major coup for Michael Moreines and his people, given the timing (search this blog for a history lesson about that deal). It's ugly out there, especially for retail in Laveen.

This is why I ask simply that people put themselves in the shoes of commercial real estate agents and economic development professionals as we encourage retail growth in our community. They are the major influencers, after all, and they are the ones with some serious explaining to do about the state of our market every time they pitch a business about expanding here. So let's help them out a little.

I proffer the following suggestion, and I welcome any and all thoughtful challenges or additions to it if it means we're starting a meaningful dialog:

Let's build a good old SWOT Analysis for the Laveen market and help change the paradigm for economic development in our community. Clearly something is not working on the macro level and, as always, we're generally neglected outside of our little burb, despite ongoing efforts by Councilman Nowakowski and State Representative Ruben Gallego, who have thankfully taken a particular interest in Laveen. Let's prove that we know our village better than anyone else, we know how to highlight Laveen's successes, and we know how to slice and dice the data so that it fits our vision for the area. If we don't, I promise that we will get more of the same, and who needs more nail salons, fast food restaurants, and dollar stores.

And while we put forth this immense effort, of which I know we're capable, I encourage you to send your own message to the likes of Trader Joe's (click here for TJ's request form). Here's my message to Trader Joe's, which I hope they read:

[Dear Mr. Joe (or Trader, for short),]

Laveen is probably not on your map, except for the recent barrage of requests you are likely receiving. But it is a growing area of Phoenix with a solid school district and above average reputation for community involvement (hence the ease of this letter writing campaign). Like many other newly growing areas of the Phoenix market, Laveen has faced some setbacks in the housing market during recent years. But unlike those areas, it is uniquely situated near the geographic center of the metro area and has a real promise of future economic growth resulting from a planned freeway, hospital, and other substantial commitments to the area. All of these factors, as well as the broad range of housing options, serve to entice more and more young professionals to the area, which would create an excellent customer base for your store or a competitor. For more information about Laveen in advance of the 2010 Census updates, please look us up on facebook, take a look at, or feel free to reference my (outdated) blog at Thank you for your consideration.