Recently, I had the opportunity to serve as one of the judges for first annual 'Best Chain on Main' competition put together by The Commercial District Advisor (CDA) and the Local Initiative Support Corporation. The awards recognizes regional and national chain stores that pave the way for commercial revitalization. Winners were chosen based on their investment in underserved urban markets, ability to provide excellent service, maintain clean and attractive stores, storefronts and merchandise displays, and their contribution to local commercial revitalization efforts.
Below you'll find brief blurbs from CDA's Larisa Ortiz P-Folkes about each of the five retailers honored. And in the coming weeks we'll have an expanded slideshow at Retail Traffic in our galleries section and brief interviews with the winners on our Web site.
First Place Winner: Villa
The first place winner is Villa, an urban-inspired apparel and footwear retailer with 26 locations throughout the Mid-Atlantic Region.
“Villa succeeds by combining profit and socially responsible business practices” says Farah Jimenez, President & CEO of People's Emergency Center CommunityCorporation (PECCDC), the neighborhood-based non-profit leading local commercial revitalization efforts along Lower Lancaster Avenue in West Philadelphia, where one of Villa's stores is located, and the entity that nominated Villa. “Villa's arrival in 2008 significantly advanced our commercial revitalization efforts. Their gleaming storefront served as an example that helped inspire other businesses and property owners to improve their storefronts and window displays. Since then, we have completed 15 faÃ§ade improvement projects in our district – 8 on Villa's block alone.”
“Villa is proud to receive the top honor as the 2010 Best Chain on Main,” says Jason Lutz, Villa's President and CEO. “This award exemplifies Villa's strong commitment to the communities we serve— by providing our customers with quality merchandise and excellent service, by supporting neighborhood initiatives, and by setting a positive example through good storefront. We believe the respect we show our communities through these efforts is a cornerstone of our success.”
Second Place Winner: Pamela's P&G Diner
Pamela's P&G Diner is recognized for their “Strip District” location, a historically gritty, industrial neighborhood just northeast of downtown Pittsburgh. Pamela's P&G Diner is an anchor in the district, attracting visitors from the entire region and drawing foot traffic that invariably helps other local businesses. According to nominee Neighbors in the Strip, a local community group leading commercial revitalization efforts, Pamela's also takes the lead in donating to worthy causes at its Strip District location. They consistently supports community efforts by sponsoring block parties, providing breakfast for more than 35 photographers during the organization's annual photo walk and photography contest, and donating to other local causes.
The judges were particularly impressed by the attention to interior and exterior design detail – each location is designed and themed to enhance neighborhood ambiance and contribute to neighborhood character. The judges also recognized Pamela's P&G participation in local commercial revitalization activities.
“We are proud of our commitment to walk able Main Streets” says Gail Klingensmith, owner of Pamela's P&G. “Wherever we locate a store, we always make sure to belong to the local business group. We take pride in the fact that our stores have become a destination on Pittsburgh's urban Main Streets.”
“They have been great partners since they opened about six years ago. For our annual Art and Stroll event, they helped close the block and brought in a 50's band” says Becky Rodgers, Executive Director of Neighbors in the Strip. Rodgers adds “they are always first in line when we ask for help, donations, support or sponsorship. We are so pleased to see them getting the recognition they deserve.”
Third Place Winner: The Fresh Grocer
The dearth of fresh food options in urban areas is well documented. Philadelphia-based independent grocer The Fresh Grocer is helping to fill that market gap. The Fresh Grocer has been targeting urban markets in the Philadelphia area since 2001 at University City at 40th and Walnut. Their stores have helped catalyze commercial revitalization activities in many of the markets where they locate.
“These stores have spurred a lot of economic development in the areas” says The Fresh Grocer spokesperson Carly Spross, adding “our Northeast Philadelphia store is in an area that had been without a supermarket for 40 years.” “We also focus on hiring locally. In our newest locations, we have hired 98% of employees from within 2-miles of the store.”
The judges were impressed with The Fresh Grocer's commitment to providing fresh food in underserved urban areas, their attractive displays and interiors, and their work in the local community. At their 56th and Chestnut store, they partnered with a local elementary school to incentivize higher attendance rates. At the end of the marking period, they provided $10 gift cards to children with perfect attendance rates. In the beginning of the initiative they gave out about 10 gift cards, but according to Sprouss, they gave out 85 gifts cards during the last marking period.
Honorable mentions were awarded to Mugshots Coffee House and Café, a coffee shop with 3 locations in Philadelphia, PA, and Gothic Cabinet Craft, a furniture retailer with 33 locations in and around New York City.
The first Mugshots Coffee House and Café opened over 6 years ago. They now have three locations in the Philadelphia area. Their newest location on Girard Avenue in Brewerytown opened in November of 2009 with support from The Merchant Fund's ReStore Retail Incentive Grant program, among other grant programs. Owner Angela Vendetti is a local resident with a deep personal interest in seeing the neighborhood revitalized. She notes that Girard Avenue is still a street in need of investment, and that retailers remain hesitant to open stores in the neighborhood. However, she noted that the arrival of Mugshots has helped stir local buzz. Since Mugshots opened, a day spa and pharmacy have opened, and restaurants are beginning to add to the retail mix.
The judges were impressed by the impeccably renovated faÃ§ade featuring brick, ornamental metal, French doors, and large original plate glass windows. These details make the storefront stand out as a model faÃ§ade improvement along the street. The interior also reflects the attention to design, with a focus on restoring the original plan oak flooring and other period details. “The store is a gem” says Patricia Blakely of The Merchant Fund, who provided funding for the faÃ§ade. The judges also commend the owner for a standout, high quality investment in a low/moderate income neighborhood, and anticipate that this investment will spur other similar investments in the area.
Gothic Cabinet Craft's affordable, solid wood furniture has been a New York staple for almost forty years. The winning location, 82-18 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights, NY stands out for the care taken with merchandise displays and their large transparent windows that give pedestrians simple eye candy on a street otherwise cluttered with newsstands and dollar stores. The store manager also offers the community prominent window space to display student art work sponsored by the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, a local community group. Additionally, most of their furniture is built locally in Maspeth, Queens, providing valuable industrial jobs within the City. We congratulate the winners and hope their stories inspire your efforts to work with local businesses in support of your commercial revitalization efforts!
The judges were impressed by Gothic's willingness to locate in underserved outer borough markets, where their clean, attractive merchandise displays often stand out on otherwise visually cluttered streets. While there are other small, budget furniture stores near the Jackson Heights location, Gothic's arrival in Jackson Heights has helped elevate the quality of furniture offerings in the district and has also created improved opportunities for window shopping.