The Rapidian

The Urban Shopping Experience

Modus Operandi

Modus Operandi /Terry Johnston

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Downtown retail is an indicator of a healthy city. The suburban ethos of the 50s and 60s left Grand Rapids, like many other cities, with deteriorated business cores that were primarily only used as commuter office spaces on a nine to five schedule. The gradual rebirth of Grand Rapids includes a new generation of businesses that are yes, finally, offering retail shopping. The idea that you do not have to suffer the suburban shopping mall for your holiday gift giving needs has started to hit home. People are realizing that shopping and walking Grand Rapids business district offers an experience that the mall can never mimic. What is the draw?

The suburban shopping mall has survived on many myths and lots of marketing. The shopping mall relies on the idea that it is easy and convenient. In reality urban business districts are just as convenient and just as easy, while having the added bonus of being less chaotic and offering more unique goods and services.

Compare a mall trip to an urban experience: at the mall you drive to a remote suburban location and spend a half an hour to try to find a mediocre parking space in a maze of a parking lot, once parked you are walking at least 1/2 mile before you actually enter a store, at the mall stores you have an unlimited selection of mass produced and branded products that are all amazing similar, you pay jacked up prices to identify with a brand for an item that was massed produced in a developing country at low wages ultimately undermining our local economy.

In an urban business district, you park on the street or in small parking lots adjacent to stores. The first store you encounter after you park is within a few yards and in a half-mile adventure walking from store to store you are able to find hundreds of unique and specialty items that are more about quality and substance and less about brands. Shopping at local independent retailers is a warm and welcoming experience. If you need assistance than an interested and knowledgeable attendant will help you, often the business owner. Urban business districts are dotted with restaurants and cafes where you can take some time to relax over a cup of coffee or lunch. A far cry from a mall food court, instead you will find hand made food from quality ingredients.

By shopping at an independent retailer you are supporting the American economy and also, most importantly, our local economy. Small businesses account for half of all private sector jobs in the US and account for 65% of new job growth in the past decade. Small businesses are stable employers, when their profit margins dip they do not jump ship, leaving yet another empty mega-store vacant on agricultural land turned strip mall, they stick it out.

Get out and do your holiday shopping! Do it locally, here in the heart of Grand Rapids.

Some upcoming shopping events that feature extra special deals and entertainment include:
Urban Lights on the Avenue for the Arts - Dec 10 from 6-11pm on the 100/200 blocks of Division
Get Your Joy On - Downtown ShopHop - Dec 8 from 5-9pm various locations around downtown, ride the trolley to visit them all

Disclosure: The author is a local artist and hosting a pop-up gift shop this holiday season featuring local artisans.

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