Retail Businesses Need Customers (So Why Are We Opposed to New Housing?)

There is a basic concept that I think everyone can agree on:

Retail businesses need customers

It doesn't matter if those customers reach the business via the web, by walking down to the corner, or by driving to a mall. All businesses need customers.

Given that, it is strange to me when I hear conversations in my neighborhood (Lakewood). On the one hand, there are so many voices speaking out against every new housing development. Developers are greedy. The neighborhood doesn't need more traffic. These projects are cutting down all the trees. All of the standard arguments that don't hold much water when scrutinized, but are prevalent nevertheless.

At the same time, multiple restaurants and small businesses in my neighborhood can't quite get a foothold. They have sputtered and closed up shop. Sure, there are plenty of reasons for this: bad business plans, partnership infighting, and of course, COVID.

However, even if one business is flawed, it doesn't account for the long periods of time before a new business moves in. It took a long time before the old County Fare became Honeysuckle. The old Lakewood Restaurant failed and True Flavors moved in a while later, but that failed as well and the space currently sits empty.

There is another force at play. Specifically, there aren't enough customers in the area! The people who are fighting against new housing are directly opposed to the thing that would make local restaurants viable. Our neighborhood needs to add housing of all types: market rate, affordable, missing middle, accessory dwelling units, and on and on. Only then can the restaurants here breathe easily and the conditions might be right for adding other essentials like a post office branch, a hardware store/garden center, cultural attractions, and other businesses that I haven't even thought about.

Of course, there is one more way commercial uses can be viable in a neighborhood like Lakewood without adding housing. They can pull from a wider radius. Cocoa Cinnamon gets a few more people traveling to get their delicious churros. Prior to COVID, Rhythms Live Music Hall had events that pulled people from all over Durham. However, there is only so much that small local businesses can do to widen their reach. For the most part, these are small businesses that serve their local community.

So what kind of business can draw from a wide radius? Big box stores with huge parking lots! Someday, if Lakewood Shopping Center turns into a gigantic Target, I will NOT be pleased. I would much rather have small businesses that are active participants in making the neighborhood better instead of large corporate retail businesses, focused on extracting profits and sending them back to corporate HQ in another state.

So if you hear people in your neighborhood opposing density where it makes sense, let them know that they are killing any chance of having the next awesome local joint.

Apologies if I have instantly failed at my goal of being less grumpy from the last post! That said, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the forum!

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