New Downtown Report, Parking Woes, Business Mix, Etc.

Lowell Live Feed on Facebook has a discussion thread about a new report on Lowell’s downtown and the related issues of parking, business mix, etc. I began to comment on the thread, but my comment got long so I decided to post it here on the blog.

I think Yogi Berra said, That place is so crowded nobody goes there. If there are so few downtown spaces available, why aren’t the people parked in the spaces spending money nearby? If there were no cars, that would be a problem. I’ve always thought Elliot’s Lunch (Famous Hot Dogs) and the Owl Diner were case studies that proved the customers will find a way to buy what they want. Neither eatery has ideal parking.They are not in the center of downtown. Yet they succeed based on product quality and reputation. I believe people will make the effort. We have many garages, thanks to past City officials. Cote’s Market is another example. Especially after a blizzard. Tough to park. But people keep going in the door. And another thought. With a downtown business district laid out in the 19th century, maybe there are too many existing, available storefronts (business locations) for a 21st century downtown. Maybe there should be more living downtown, which is the way it is trending. Why consider it a failure to not commercialize every space that looks like it should have a business, as if it is still 1895 or 1945? There are scores of small businesses all around the city. More than 200 Cambodian-American small businesses, I’ve been told. We have business vitality. In the former Father John’s Medicine building, people live on the first floor. I think that is correct. Could we have more of that? Maybe the strategy should change. Go for more people. Then a business network for residents, students, visitors, and others can grow organically. I feel that we are trying to shoehorn a 21st century business reality into a 19th century business shoe. Something doesn’t fit. The conditions have changed.

One Response to New Downtown Report, Parking Woes, Business Mix, Etc.

  1. Brian says:

    Lowell was Lowell in 1895 and 1945 because it wasn’t so auto centric. The street network laid out pre auto is a strength but the mistakes of past city officials to tear down buildings and neighborhoods, widen roads, build an overpass and eliminate sidewalks make it darn right impossible for most residents to walk safely to downtown for work, shopping, or play. You’ve mentioned in past posts you live on Highland St. How often do you walk to DTL? If it’s often I commend you. If it’s not often I don’t blame you. I live in Belvidere and haven’t walked to DTL since I was in high school. The 1945 residents of Highland St would probably think it absurd to drive to DTL even if they owned a car. I’ve read about folks who lived on Holyrood Ave and walked to DTL every day for decades. We need to unwind our auto dominated infrastructure to get back to that state of mind for Lowell thrive once again.

    Having many available small storefronts creates a low barrier of entry for entrepreneurs to start a business. Bigger storefronts means increased costs and reduces the likelihood we’d have so many great small businesses in Lowell. I agree we need more people living downtown but ground floor retail should be law for any new development in DTL. Ground floor retail gives non-residents a reason to visit or walk by, creates a sense of place, and makes people feel safe. I would argue that building owners should chop up their properties thus increasing the number of available storefronts making it easier for people open a business. Many would still fail but the risks would be less. The ones that succeed would then be able to scale up organically.

    I’m not impressed that a Jimmy Johns is coming to Merrimack St. We don’t need more “Dunkin Donuts” franchises. Who has 500k for the franchise fee anyway? I bet those Cambodian-American small business owners didn’t have that type of money when they started out. The 1895 business owner probably lived above the store. I bet the sidewalk was shoveled as well.