Here's the latest installment of Bates By the Numbers, a weekly feature by Boston real estate agent David Bates that drills down into the Hub's housing market to uncover those trends and people you would not otherwise notice. Follow him on Twitter and check out his ebook, Context: Nine Key Condo Markets, 2.0.
The biggest shopping season of the year and what's changed? The weather, that's what. It wasn't that long ago that it was feared that consumers would do all their shopping from their computer, in an environment that was a steady 70 degrees and perfectly clear. Fast forward to today and it's the exact opposite. It might be negative 2 outside with a threat of rain, snow, sleet, hail or some other New England climate assault, but odds are you'll be braving those weather conditions and shopping outside.
While Internet shopping has undoubtedly grown over the years, another previously popular way to shop has apparently become yesterday's fashion. Laurel Sibert, vice president of marketing at WS Development, which is leasing 1.3 million square feet of Seaport Square retail among other projects, told me that the firm doesn't have any interior malls. It seems that not one of WS' 85 properties has canned air and fake lighting. Even in Madison, Wis., where winter temperatures average 0 more than two weeks a year, WS is in the process taking an indoor center and flipping it back into an outdoor one. "We pride ourselves on the green spaces and energy we bring to the sidewalks," Sibert said.
Sean Selby, a principal at Arrow Street, a Boston architectural firm that helped design Patriot Place, told me that developing interior malls has become old school. "There really isn't any enclosed building going on right now," he said. "If there's one or two in the country currently I'd be surprised. It's all outdoors."
Why shop in the great wide open? One big reason seems to be that property owners can use the money they save on the mechanicals to add amenities that draw more shoppers and improve the frequency, length and quality of the consumer's visit, amenities such as the outdoor skating rink found at Market Street in Lynnfield, another WS property. Other successful recently developed retail properties have areas where kids can do cartwheels, musicians can play, vendors can present, and where a host of other outdoor activities can occur, such as tree lightings.
If the outdoor-retail trend keeps up, the motto for Boston shoppers might resemble the fabled one of letter carriers: "Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these [shoppers] from the swift completion of their rounds."
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