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Project515 panelists describe today’s retail sector


Panelists on the Business Record’s Project515 virtual discussion last week about the sector were asked what one word or phrase they would use to describe the commercial sector, which includes restaurants, bars, coffee shops, clothing stores and other places where goods can be purchased.

Here are the panelists’ responses.

Jennifer Brown, economic development director, city of Waukee:
 “There’s a lot of adapting going on in retail, so the words I chose are ‘experience focused.’ I think the retail industry is going to continue to focus on that customer experience and look at ways to continue to be creative in their physical spaces. They are also going to make sure they’re keeping customers interacting with them online and also socially so that they really have that fluid and organic experience that will make them more profitable.”

Kara Kelso, co-owner, the Slow Down Coffee Co.: “My phrase is ‘neighborhood and community focused.’ We chose [to be in] Highland Park because of the community. We love interacting with the people that live there, the infrastructure that is there. We’re just seeing the neighborhood continue to flourish, and I think that that’s happening just everywhere in the city. People are interested in building neighborhoods up.”

Lauren Kollauf, executive director, the Avenues of Ingersoll & Grand: The phrase I chose is ‘locally driven.’ What makes a neighborhood shopping district like the Avenues so special is that you’re able to have unique and one-of-a-kind retail and dining experiences that you really can’t find anywhere else. We do have some national chains on our corridor, but I think what really makes our district special is all of the locally owned businesses and the locally based developers who are sort of leading the charge. I think the pandemic made us all realize that if we want our favorite local shops and restaurants to survive, we have to support them.”

Kuuku Saah, co-owner, Mars Cafe: “The phrase I chose is ‘neighborhoods at the center of growth.’ Something that we’re seeing nationally has been a migration from downtown to our neighborhoods, post-pandemic. We’re still not 100% occupancy for a lot of the downtown areas, but something that we’ve seen is a tremendous amount of growth in our neighborhood retail areas and that is expected to continue as more people work from home. … We are starting to see a lot more activity within coffee shops; we are seeing a lot more shopping within neighborhoods. We are seeing a lot more people having dinner and having lunch within their neighborhoods.”

Christopher Shires, principal, Confluence: “My word is ‘fluid.’ Thank you, COVID, because we saw a rapid change to the retail environment in a very short time period and we need to stay fluid and adaptable to changes that I don’t think we fully understand yet. Our retail demand, our customer preferences, I don’t think we fully even understand what they want. And so, as we continue to move forward as we continue to adapt, we need to be flexible and fluid to react to changes.”

Meredith Young, vice president, JLL: “I would say ‘exciting’. … Post-COVID and the pandemic, it has spurred a lot of excitement and energy in new activity. It’s not slow right now. It’s definitely picking up. We’re seeing new concepts and new people wanting to venture out and do something. I think it really sparked a lot of new innovations. It put people into where they really want to take that leap forward and do something new. There’s a lot of good things happening in our market right now and I know that there’s more to come.”

More online: To watch the Project515 panel discussion on the retail sector, click here.


Kathy A. Bolten

Kathy A. Bolten is a senior staff writer at Business Record. She covers real estate & development, law & government and retail.

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