Choices abound for consumers. To be successful, a retail store or center must devise a strategy to become the chosen alternative. Design has become increasingly meaningful to the bottom line for retail ventures, reaching beyond good old-fashioned curb appeal.

In addition to drawing customers, well-designed retail spaces are easier to lease. A fully-occupied center boasting record sales is what any developer would like to achieve.

Today's retail environment dictates that the design team must fully participate in the realization of this goal. Developers should select a design team with a proven track record of helping their projects compete and stand apart in the marketplace. Aspects of retail that can be enhanced with quality design include building style, tenant mix, safety, visibility and accessibility, as well as the affinity of the community and other practical concerns.

* Building style Appropriate design can create value for developers through enduring style. One example is the authentic re-creation of a community's design style. For instance, creating an Art Deco-style center in a historic district originally built in that style will stand the test of time while attracting customers with nostalgia and genuine atmosphere.

On the other hand, sustainable design can incorporate modern materials and innovative elements that are easily cared for and updated. Each retail situation merits an individualized case study where the architectural design team proposes suitable alternatives.

* Tenant mix Centers with an eclectic tenant mix serve the needs of their communities and stir the imaginations of their visitors. Retail architects should identify emerging trends and bring to the table their experience and contacts with a variety of tenants. These tenants include such diverse users as theaters, restaurants, fitness clubs, gourmet grocers, day spas and automobile dealerships, in addition to anchor department stores and boutique infill shops.

* Safety Shoppers no longer frequent retail destinations only during daylight hours. With tenants extended operating hours - serving early-morning coffee patrons to late-night theatergoers - safety is of paramount importance. Proper lighting and sufficient, close-in parking enhance the perception of safety, drawing greater numbers of customers during extended hours.

* Visibility and accessibility Innovative site planners know that even difficult sites can be designed for maximum efficiency. As retail changes, so do site layouts. Designers are constantly seeking ways to entice visitors to the site, and to make visits as comfortable and interesting as possible. Planning for traffic flow, parking, pedestrian access and walking within the center are all important considerations for well-designed retail spaces. Also, center and store signage should be charming, informative and visible.

* Affinity of the community Shopping centers have become our new town centers, and those that are beloved by their neighbors are the ones that thrive. Experienced retail architects listen to both community and developer needs, fusing them together to create a memorable destination that resonates within the community.

* Practical concerns Retail architects charged with fulfilling contract documents work to keep projects on schedule. By delivering design drawings that not only meet city code requirements but also minimize ambiguity, designers are the owner's ally to the bottom line.

* Favorite retail store Georg Jensen jeweler:

"My favorite part is the store's timeless designs in silver."

* Favorite restaurant design The Grill on the cruise ship Paul Gaugin:

"I like the restaurant for its top-deck, open-air setting with breathtaking views of the South Pacific Islands - and for the wonderful fresh fish and fruit served there."

* Most improved retail image Gap and Target: "The Gap ads take a fresh approach. They draw in the viewer and make you want to watch. Target's advertisements and merchandising are interesting and eye-catching."