Downtown needs to grow denser by getting smaller

The biggest problem with DT, is not the empty retail space, the parking lots, or the lack of density, its the spaces themselves. It is the size of the empty spaces that is leaving them deserted. These spaces need to be subdivided. A small business owner doesn’t need 7000sf on the corner of across from the Fairmont Hotel, they need 300sf or 400sf. If a small business owner or artisan wants to sell their products in their own shop in DT San Jose, it is currently impossible. Do a search for retail space and the results show nothing under 700sf. and there’s only one or two at that size. But then look at Japantown. Ever wonder why retail does so well there, despite similar empty parking lots and similar lack of density, it is due to appropriately sized retail. Part of the benefit of having older buildings in Japantown is that the spaces were set up for multiple small businesses. Shops in Japantown range 300sf and up, a size that is workable for a small business. With prices right around $2sf, small businesses need small spaces. A business that rents a 300sf cuts there rent in half versus the 700sf in DT, if its even available. There are a few at 1000sf, but most start around 1,500sf almost five times that in Japantown.
Now take this idea of small space and look at housing, which is one of the biggest problems currently in San Jose. Rental rates are the highest in 5 or more years. One bedrooms are renting for well over $1,000/month. Again the solution, if rates are high, make the space smaller. Just look at New York City. People are willing to rent what amounts to a closet here in California, because they want to be there. The other reason they rent that small of a space, is because its available to rent. If the space does not exist it can’t be rented, seems like a fairly logical premise. Where are all the young single professionals, graduate students, and such supposed to live/buy in DT San Jose? If builders made smaller spaces they would be opening up a previously unreached market.
Small spaces are essential for the urban growth of a city and San Jose already has precedent to back these claims, the San Pedro Market Square. Even with all the set backs and construction issues, SPSM has successfully filled all but one tenant space. Though there are other reasons for this success like forced foot traffic, and advertising, the main attraction was that small businesses could lease a small space, even at the combined $7sf price. 200sf, 300sf, 500sf spaces all leased out with many other businesses inquiring about the remaining space. So if this strategy worked so well, why not try to implement other retail in DT is this way? Why not allow subdivisions of empty retail that has been dormant in years? At this point it worth a shot, obviously something has to change beyond the economic climate. Plus allowing smaller spaces brings in more variety. Instead of having one or two medium sized, maybe chain type businesses, it attracts more local type places and fits 3 or 4 in the same space. By creating these smaller spaces, it creates more density naturally. It not only allows more people to live/work in the same space, but it allows affordability to more people creating a broader appeal to the DT core.

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2 Responses to Downtown needs to grow denser by getting smaller

  1. Genny says:

    If you look at all major cities that have successful retail spaces, you absolutely realize that they usually do not exceed 500sf. Mont-Royall Street in Montreal has a booming business because small business owners are able to survive by selling jewelry, art, etc. I think this is the direction DT San Jose should go!!! Great idea.

  2. Adam says:

    This sounds familiar! Lets start the small retail revolution!