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Field Trip

In General, Retail Thoughts on April 4, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Last Wednesday Patricia and I (more on Patricia in my next post) headed out of the city to two very fun meetings. The first was for a demonstration of a high-tech Rational induction oven at Trademark Equipment & Supplies HQ in Ashland, MA.  The second was a visit with the George Howell Coffee Co. at their HQ in Acton, MA.  Let’s start with the GHCC visit…

I. George Howell Coffee Co. is one of the country’s top roasters and distributors of coffees. George Howell, its founder, is the pioneer for the enlightened coffee scene  in the Boston area.  George previously owned the Coffee Connection, which he sold to Starbucks in 1994 when Starbucks was making its move into the Northeast. GHCC doesn’t have too much in common with Starbuck’s nowadays though.  George’s team has focused of late on sourcing some of the best coffee beans direct from farms across the globe, roasting them and making them available to us at high-end grocers, local cafes and restaurants.  I first learned about GHCC when my sis Liza and her partner Marley were doing their due diligence for opening Crema Cafe in Harvard Square.  Now, as CityRetail is talking with GHCC about a possible assignment, I figured it was about time to head to Acton, MA and see where it all goes down.

Patricia and I met our close friend Michael Staub at GHCC and as soon as we got there we jumped right in a with a cupping (“cupping” is coffee lingo for a tasting – see pic above) followed by some sourcing, roasting and brewing talk.  We then saw the roasting in action. The visit was fun and educational and I’m now confident asserting that the GHCC team is as good as it gets.

The coffee that comes from GHCC’s roasters is outstanding and the level of competence and attention to detail is amazing. Being somebody who actively seeks out the best cafes in every city I visit, I’ve experience barista culture at its best and worst. At its worst, it has an elitist edge that looks down upon those who aren’t informed about the best coffees and the best way to drink such coffees.  At it’s best though, it’s about enlightening people by introducing them to new coffees and new ways to drink it – it’s about education and inclusion.  George, Rebecca, Jenny, Janet, Doug and the rest of the GHCC team falls into this later category – they get it and want to share it. It’s now CityRetail’s goal to help them share it too.

II. Prior to GHCC, we started our day out in Ashland, MA with the Trademark Equipment team… (read more) Read the rest of this entry »

Plaid Friday

In Retail Thoughts on December 2, 2010 at 12:47 am

Shopping has been in the news lately, a lot. Thanksgiving brings with it the start of the holiday shopping season and the media’s obsession therewith. While our focus and interest here at CityRetail is almost always more local than national, it’s a fun time of year to be in the retail biz and it’s hard to resist all the news and stats re: “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday.”

In addition to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, “Small Business Saturday” hit the mainstream this year as a pet project pushed by American Express (a bit ironic, as so many small businesses do not accept AMEX because the rates charged back to retailers are significantly higher that other credit/charge cards).  “Plaid Friday” was another initiative that made an appeal to holiday shoppers this year and this “day” really resonated with me and strikes at the core of what CityRetail believes in.

Plaid Friday was envisioned and created to promote local and independently owned businesses during the holiday season and to give, in the words of Joe Grafton of Somerville Local First, “an alternative to the big box retail-driven Black Friday.” The objective has powerful social, economic and environment benefits.  Joe, a friend and respected colleague, wrote a great piece in today’s Tufts Daily about Plaid Friday and the profound benefit of supporting local businesses. Joe writes:

Local business are far more likely to use local farmers, local graphic designers, local web designers and so on.  And those business owners are also part of our communities and tend to shop locally as well. The resulting local multiplier effect shows that for every $100 that we spend at local businesses, $68 stays within our respective communities.  Non-local businesses typically do not follow this model… Purchases at non-local businesses keep about $43 in the community. Net result: For every $100 that you spend (locally), $25 more stays in your community…”  (see full article here: http://ow.ly/3idy8) (read more) Read the rest of this entry »

Ventless Kitchen Hood?!

In Retail Thoughts on November 15, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Here at CityRetail we work with a lot of restaurants and a lot of landlords that want restaurants (cafes and quick serve included).  Building a restaurant though requires a tremendous amount of labor and money.  Of this labor and money, a disproportionately large amount goes into building the restaurant’s kitchen.

Restaurant kitchens cannot be built just anywhere. Municipalities have very strict building codes regarding kitchens. Stoves, gas ranges, fryers and other cooking equipment needs to have a hood over it that pulls smoke, fumes and smells off the cooking surface and removes it from the premises.  This system is commonly referred to as a kitchen exhaust system.  Said exhaust is traditionally vented from a hood, which sits over the cooking equipment, up to the roof of the building (this is all the shiny metal you often see running up the sides of buildings and on the roofs of buildings with restaurants).  Not only are the systems expensive to install but they can be costly to maintain. Further, there are many retail spaces that cannot be exhausted because there is no passageway to the roof and/or the City will not allow exhausting out of the sidewall of a building… No kitchen exhaust = no cooking = no restaurant… Or so most of us think.

Now that you understand the above dynamic, I hope you can understand how excited I’ve been of late to learn about ventless kitchen exhaust systems and electric cooking… (read more) Read the rest of this entry »

Boston’s Burger Craze

In Retail Thoughts on October 26, 2010 at 11:09 pm

Hi Friends. CityRetail has been really busy lately. I have a lot to write about and hope to roll out 4 or 5 posts in the next few weeks. For now though, let’s focus on something of utmost importance to the Boston/Cambridge retail scene: burgers. Yeah, seriously, hamburgers.

The last couple of years has brought an explosion of hamburger obsessed/themed quick serve restaurants to Boston. The reality though is that it’s not just a quick serve trend — some of the city’s best and most acclaimed full service restaurants are paying attention to burgers too… Craigie on Main’s burger showed up on the cover on Bon Appetit Magazine in September and the Boston Globe just did a long piece on Boston’s burgers (link). CityRetail’s friend, Gary Strack of Central Kitchen, is opening a restaurant at One Broadway (Kendall Sq) in 2011 and has apparently been on a year-long investigation into the burger. Down the street in Central Square is Four Burger, which is rumored to be looking for add’l locations. Over the summer in Harvard Square Flat Patties moved out of the Garage and into a prime-time spot on Brattle Street. Burger developments in Boston trump Cambridge of late though: B.Good just opened on Washington Street; UBurger will follow suit a couple blocks away on Tremont Street next month; 5 Napkin Burger will open at the Prudential Center shortly; Tasty Burger opened last month on Boylston St. near Fenway; Art of Burger will soon hit Commonwealth Ave. just off of BU’s West Campus; and Five Guy’s has been actively looking for spots…(read more) Read the rest of this entry »

Pop-up Stores, II

In Retail Thoughts on September 22, 2010 at 10:22 pm

Labor day is long gone and the buzz in the retail world is now about holiday shopping, predictions and trends. One of 2009’s hottest retail trends is looking even more relevant in 2010: pop-up stores.

I’ve come across several articles and blog posts in the last week talking about the Toys R Us announcement that it will open 600 pop-up stores by the end of October (it had 90 last year). NPR’s Weekend Edition just did a piece on the 19th about Halloween themed pop-up stores (NPR link) that will be occupying big vacant retail space for the next six weeks. There’s Ricky’s, Halloween Express, iparty (above pic is of the iparty pop-up on Boylston Street in Boston) and many others.

Those of you that have read my blog since the start know that I have very mixed feelings about pop-up stores. I wrote last February that “Pop-up stores haven’t fundamentally changed retail real estate yet but they have the potential to really shake things up – for good and bad.” Well, now 8+ months since this post, it is indeed looking like pop-up stores will bring about fundamental change to the retail real estate industry. And it’s not just in busted strip malls in suburbia — pop-ups are appearing in Manhattan, Chicago, LA, Boston and everywhere in between.

Here is what I previously wrote (and still believe) about pop-up stores on 02/03/10: (read more) Read the rest of this entry »

Security Deposits

In Closed Deals, Retail Thoughts on September 3, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Every retail lease negotiation I have worked on since Jan 1, 2009 (between my law office and CityRetail there are dozens, of which 16 have closed, i.e. a lease has been signed) has hinged largely on the amount of and/or form of security given by Tenant to LL in consideration of the Lease.

Most of us are familiar with security deposits in the residential game – you know, “first, last and security.” Residential tenants in the Boston/Cambridge market typically sign a 12-month lease and pay one month rent towards security.  Accordingly, if you bail and/or stop paying rent the LL has a one month cushion before it gets messy.  There is no formula in the retail game though and deal terms vary greatly:  the length of the tenancy can vary from 3 to 20 years (I’ve seen both in the 16 closed deals since ’09);  landlords often, especially in this market, will put some of their own money into improving the property, which can range from $10,000 to $500,000 (again, seen both); and the condition of spaces range from being ready for immediate occupancy (Lease executed and within days shop is open for business) to a 6-month plus period to obtain licenses and convert a cold-dark space into an occupiable space…  You get the point – lots of moving pieces and no deal is the same.

So then, how have I seen Security handled?… 16 different ways.  Security has been in the form of cash, a letter of credit, a security interest in another piece of real property and/or tangible asset(s), a personal guarantee, etc… (read more) Read the rest of this entry »

A Denver Lesson

In General, Retail Thoughts on August 25, 2010 at 9:04 pm

I was traveling in the Rocky Mountains last week and Denver served as my point of arrival and departure.  On the front-end, my experience in Denver was outstanding. The city’s restaurant scene has been boosted over the last decade by a new generation of entrepreneurs who have been redeveloping rundown commercial properties (garages, warehouses, etc.) and inserting exciting dining and entertainment venues.  One such exciting and impressive restaurant is Steuben’s, which I ended up at via a recommendation from John Lermayer (yes, same John Lermayer from Miami that put together the libation program at the Woodward here in the Ames Hotel Boston)…  If you are in Denver go to Steuben’s.

On the back-end of my trip, Denver was far less impressive.  Instead of venturing a few blocks out of the heart of Downtown we ended up checking out the 16th Street Mall for the afternoon.  Let me first state that the 16th Street Mall has been an extremely successful urban renewal project.  It opened in 1982 and was designed by I.M. Pei.  It’s impressive public space; it’s the retail that I was unimpressed with and there are some lessons I think we can learn…

At the core of the 16th Street Mall project is a Business Improvement District (“BID”).  We’ve been hearing a lot about BIDs here in Boston, as downtown crossing is about to get one (link to Boston BID info).  The hope is that the BID can help transform downtown crossing to a vibrant city place. (read more) Read the rest of this entry »

Who’s Helping Who

In General, Retail Thoughts on August 6, 2010 at 11:47 am

In one of my first posts on this blog (link) I referenced a popular retail real estate magazine, Retail Traffic, and touched on my belief that its writers were missing the mark a bit in analyzing 2009 by ignoring the exciting growth of small, local, owner-operated business (restaurants especially) during the recession — The article was dramatically titled “2009: The Most Difficult Year in Retail Real Estate History.” Now, a half-year later, Retail Traffic is finally starting to pay proper attention to small locals, which I think is because institutional Landlords and mall developers are too. Here are two recent headlines, both from July 20th:

“Local Restaurants Can Be A Point of Distinction for Mall” & “Landlords Can Help Small Restaurants Find Success.”

Great stuff, right? Here’s the one thing that really bothers me about the second headline though…  is it really the Landlords that “can help” the small restaurants? Let’s be honest here, many of the mall LLs that are now looking to locals are doing so because they have to – Quiznos, Cold Stone Creamery, Circuit City, etc. have been shuttering and LLs need to fill dark spaces.  The examples of chain closing and LLs looking to replace with locals are abundant here in Boston Metro (Crema Cafe replaced Au Bon Pain on Brattle St. in Harvard Sq; BerryLine replaced Robecks at the Trilogy Blding near Fenway; Blue State Coffee is moving into a space that Cold Stone abandoned on BU’s West Campus; etc.).

Unlike Retail Traffic, I think it’s primarily the small restaurants that are helping Landlords find success, not the opposite.  Well, actually, it’s a mutually beneficial process.  Ah yes, mutual benefit… (read more) Read the rest of this entry »

Food Trucks

In Restaurant News, Retail Thoughts on July 19, 2010 at 11:36 pm

Food trucks have been getting a lot of buzz in Boston of late. Actually, food trucks have been gaining a lot of attention and momentum in America’s most exciting cities for the last couple of years (NYC, LA, SF, Seattle, Austin, etc.). What’s interesting about the recent buzz in Boston is that it’s from the City’s Mayor and City Council.

One of Boston’s most well known food trucks is Clover, which started operating out Kendall Square in October 2008. Last month Clover started service out of a second truck in Dewey Square, which is at the southern-most tip of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. Clover’s Boston spot has been a huge hit and the honorable Mayor Menino is a fan. In a July 13th speech he spoke about food trucks, specifically IDing Clover, and announced the “Food Truck Challenge,” which will be a sort of food truck business plan competition with the winner getting a spot on City Hall Plaza. Shortly after the Mayor’s speech, City Council President Michael Ross ordered for a hearing regarding “mobile restaurants industry licensing and regulations.” Here’s the link: Food Truck Order for Hearing. On July 14th, the Boston Globe reported that Ross expressed a belief that the City could support 50 – 100 food trucks. (read more)

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The Other Side

In General, Retail Thoughts on June 16, 2010 at 9:40 pm

I was in NYC earlier this week with Alex and Neil debriefing re: our first 5+ months of CityRetail.  It was a valuable exercise to step back a bit and take a look at the business.  One issue we briefly discussed is the following:

Does it make sense to add Tenant Representation work to the list of services CityRetail offers – i.e., we have been working on the landowner side to find retailers; what about working on the tenant side to find deals? This is a question that I’ve been thinking a lot about of late.  Here’s the threshold issue: we want to work with small, local owner-operated businesses but is it worth the brain damage of taking on a client, running around the city, providing advisory services, etc. for the potential of placing it in retail space that we (i) don’t have an ownership interest in and/or (ii) isn’t owned by a landlord that we have an ongoing relationship with. Being a broker on the retailer side is about finding the best possible space at the best possible price in the best possible location given the Tenant’s priorities and preferences. This takes patience and diligence and, if done properly, draws on multiple disciplines.  It’s work that I think we could do and do well but it’s work that takes time and, as with any small business, time is something that has to be allocated carefully and thoughtfully during the start-up phase. (read more)

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