Posts Tagged ‘Main Street’

Lifestyle Centers


In today’s America, things are big, fast and non-personal. When we want clothes, most of us head to a mall, or to online versions of the same stores we find in the mall. Teenagers today often hang out at the mall on a Friday night.

In my marketing class last semester, we learned about the surge in the development of “lifestyle centers.” Minnesota blogger Judy Keen says, “Get ready for changes in the local shopping scene.Trends here have matched retail shifts across the country for the past decade: the proliferation of “lifestyle centers”—those pedestrian-friendly shopping areas meant to resemble hometown Main Streets—the decline of traditional enclosed malls and the exodus of stores from downtowns.” City walk, which we talked about on Tuesday, is sort of an example. Lifestyle centers are intended to be places to be. They are outdoors, with restaurants, often entertainment, and definitely shopping. Lifestyle centers look nicer than a typical enclosed mall, and some will have areas that have a resort-like feel; lifestyle centers attract wealthier people.   I think the intended appeal of these lifestyle centers is to achieve what people like about main street: it makes one feel like part of a safe community.

However, generally speaking, the stores at the lifestyle center are the same large chain stores that appear in the mall. Benfield rejects the notion that lifestyle centers feel like main street, “because true Main Streets grew organically, a shop at a time, each designed by a separate architect and built for a separate owner.  The shoe store wasn’t designed and built by the same people at the same time as the restaurant to its left or the hardware store to its right.  Each property was individually owned.  I’m not sure any one developer or planner can re-create that kind of environment in something totally new.”

As we’ve discussed America has many contradictions. The appreciation and support of mom and pop stores contrasts with negative feelings towards big box stores. This is ironic because the most successful mom and pop stores become big box stores; the owners of the small shops want money too! Expanding is a sign of a successful mom and pop store.



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While trying to decide on a topic for this blog post, I was absentmindedly scrolling through some previous posts. It struck me that many of them were dedicated to a suburban main street rather than one in the city, which made me question why we were all so tied to our own main streets. My first thought was that the urban main street had all but disappeared. Notably, in every city I’ve ever lived in (which is a few) and others I’ve visited, “Main Street” has been swapped out for a larger, more contemporary version with wider streets and commercial retailers. While it is true that we want to acknowledge the death of the urban Main Street we are less enthusiastic about acknowledging the death of our own suburban Main Streets. Urban Main Streets, are easy for us to declare obsolete. Most of us are detached from the urban environment because it is not really community centered the way we expect Main Street and our suburban hometowns to be. Whether we identified dying or thriving Main Streets in our own suburbs, there is still an expectation that suburban Main Street is a more legitimate representation of Main Street than anywhere else.

I, naturally, took a looked at my own Main Street to analyze how it has come to represent the death of the nostalgia we come to expect. First off, Naperville’s main street has been turned into a residential area, removing almost any of the significance of Main Street from our town. But, there is a placeholder main street which we refer to as “Main Street Promenade.” Essentially a small shopping center, I was most struck by the fact that it was one-sided. Opposite “Main Street” was a parking lot. Orvell argues:

“Main Street iconography in the new urbanism owes more than a little to the realization of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown that one could indeed learn something in terms of urbanism from Las Vegas; and what one could learn is the power of the commercial strip…”

Because the commercial nature of Las Vegas has taken over so many Main Streets across the country, they have become a place where we go for a stop-and-shop rather than a community gathering place, as evidenced by my parking lot that allows people to run in and out of Main Street rather than enjoying the community. Main Street has become a place we have to go rather than a place we want to go. Perhaps this is why so many who grew up in the prime of Main Street lament the loss of Main Street–the thing they once cherished and enjoyed has become something trivial in the fast-paced world that young people have come to expect and respect. Leisure has been lost from Main Street.

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I grew up in the small town of Haddonfield, New Jersey; considered to be a suburb of Philadelphia and about a 15-20 minute drive from the city. My parents moved to this area while my mom was pregnant with me, and were looking for a good place to live since my dad would be working in the city. They were originally going to live in the city itself, but then a friend suggested Haddonfield, because of it’s great schools and very safe neighborhood. Growing up there, my parent’s friend wasn’t wrong: the schools are always ranked in the top percent in all categories, from academics to sports, and the entire town is completely safe. The only real crime is all the drinking and drugs that the high school kids do, which they only do because there is literally nothing else to do in the town. There is no movie theater, no bowling alley, no department stores and no chain stories. Almost all the restaurants are mom-and-pop places, save for just two chains: Starbucks and Saxby’s. The whole town is a dry town, so there are no liquor stores or fun bars, although on every major road leading out of the town, there is a liquor store and/or bar right outside the town limits. As I grew older, I eventually asked my parents about this, and they said that the town council actively prevents all of those things from coming inside the town. Mcdonalds, Wendys, Burger King, Dunkin Donuts all want to put a location inside Haddonfield, but are prevented from doing so. The town government refuses to allow any type of store, restaurant or venue into the town that they feel might attract ‘undesirables.’ They don’t want to attract the ‘wrong type of people,’ namely poorer people who can’t afford a $7 coffee from Starbucks, or the $20 steak from the restaurant across the street. The entire town is also almost 100% white, in my grade of 180 kids, there were less than 5 non-white kids. I think the town is still mired in the 1700’s, trying to keep the town safe and white from all the dangerous surroundings.

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Main Street Hatboro During First Friday event

Its no secret that many suburbs have done away with main streets and they have increasingly become a thing of the past. However, in many places that still have main streets, First Fridays have become a popular trend. Occurring on the first Friday of the month, generally more popular in the warmer months, many small businesses and restaurants run promotions and have more of an open house feel to them. There are often stands put out on the sidewalk for local vendors and even music as the picture shows above.

While this only happens once a month, it reaffirms the idea of community that is often associated with Main Street. People come from all over to walk up and down the street to be apart of the event and apart of town.

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From a marketing perspective, Main Street at Disneyworld is an amazing success. It was established in 1955, a time of affluence for Americans, and when they were just starting to feel guilty for focusing their attention on consumerism. As Miles Orvell says in his chapter, “Constructing Main Street: Utopia and the Imagined Past” from his book about public space, Main Street, USA embodies the nostalgia of a simpler, safer, small town in America.

Walt Disney took advantage of this sentimentality for a past version of America to sell his blended, multiple theme park. Main Street, USA greets Disneyworld patrons immediately after walking through the main gates. Right from the start, visitors are made to feel comfortable and welcome, much like the feeling a product encapsulates as the consumer connects the positive qualities associated with the well-established brand to the product. For Disneyland, Disney wanted everything positive associated with the small town American Main Street to be connected with the park.

Main Street, USA is a place where Americans can go and subconsciously not feel guilty about our obsession with buying stuff. Disney made sure that the security and simplicity of Main Street would transport us back in time, and take us on an adventure of contradiction. Americans want to remember a time where freedom and democracy were at the forefront of thought instead of consumerism, and want to actively participate in consumerism at the same time. Disney sold Americans on the idea that Main Street, USA is the best good place, and Americans bought.

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Mall of America

I believe that the Mall of America illustrates the death of Main Street. Its gross area is nearly 100 acres. It contains fours floors with over 530 stores. It also has two parking 7-story parking structures on either side of the mall to ensure accessibility. It even features an indoor amusement park along with many other entertainment attractions such as restaurants, movie theaters, and interactive exhibits. I believe this is the perfect example of how corporations are taking over Main Street.

Malls, such as this one, represent the destruction of community that Main Street instilled. The individual owned and unique “mom and pop” shops are replaced with chain retainers. A street of shops that use to consist of two to three floors buildings are now being replaced with a single massive build approximately 4 times its size. Its references the current American stereotyped lifestyle, “the bigger, the better.” In addition, the family businesses that use to exist on Main Street are becoming more difficult to keep afloat due to the expansion of corporations. Corporations have the size, money, and means of production to price their items cheaper than the average “mom and pop” shop. Due to the fact that corporations advertise their sales through mass outlets such as social media, TV advertisements, billboards, etc., they are able to attract a larger crowd of customers. However this can lead to mass chaos, such as shoe fights and trampling of individuals as herds of people sprint through open doors to get their half priced flat screen TV illustrated in “Black Friday.” I feel that malls can bring out the worst in people. Malls evoke greed whereas Main Street provides nostalgia. In my opinion, Main Street evokes family values and welcoming atmosphere.

In addition, malls also have this “gate” that we talked about in relation to Disney. They have a set amount of hours where the doors are open and closed. Yes, the shops on mainstream also have a set amount of hours, but the street is always open. In my hometown, a variety of organizations gather in the square after dark with candlelight for various activities ranges from a vigil to church prayer circle to flyer fly catching in the summertime. My square is place to gather and get to know your fellow community members. It sad to know that places like my hometown will slowly begin to dissipate due to urbanization and our economic state.

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In this episode, main street is initially depicted as a thriving place where townspeople interact and conduct business. It even functions as a public place by serving as an outlet to spread news (the news about the opening of the Walmart). In this way, main street functions to bring different townspeople together, regardless of social class.

After the Walmart opens, main street is depicted as desolate and decrepit, with broken glass and boarded up windows. It has lost the population density and well-kept appearance that gives Americans a sense of comfort when walking down main street.

The catalyst for the death of South Park’s main street is American consumerism. This consumerism leads to the rise of large corporations to replace family-owned businesses. Consumerism is fueled ultimately by price and South Parks residents are depicted as only caring about getting the best bargain, rather than the quality of the product itself or who owns the business that sells the product. The shop owner initially says that he cannot compete with Walmart’s low prices, yet later, after the Walmart closes, his business booms and turns into a Walmart-like megastore. This suggests that the extinction of main street is an inevitable byproduct of the rise of consumerism.

South Park primarily focuses on the economic function of main street, rather than the social impact on the tightknit community that uses main street to interact with one another. Yet, in the absence of main street, Walmart becomes a defacto place of social interaction because of the hours customers spend shopping. The townspeople go to Walmart primarily to shop, but also know that they are likely to see their neighbors there. Additionally, Walmart strikes an appealing balance as an open-access place that excludes certain individuals (those who cannot or will not purchase anything). Like Disney World, it offers excitement along with a feeling of security, while still retaining an appearance of accessibility. In short, it represents the fundamental contradiction of public places in America.

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