Neighborhood-Scale Retail

When you’ve already started cooking dinner and realize that you’re out of eggs and that you absolutely have to have eggs for this meal to work, it’s a beautiful thing to be able to just run down the block to buy a dozen without even turning the stove off.

When you don’t own a car and normally have to rely on a bus that only runs every 40 minutes whenever you want to leave the neighborhood, it’s a beautiful thing to be able to just wheel a cart around the corner to make the weekly grocery run.

Living near retail is convenient—especially for people who live car-free—and a lot of city neighborhoods would be a lot better off if they had more of it. More grocery stores, post offices, pharmacies, laundromats, hardware stores, libraries, barbers, and daycares within easy walking distance of more people’s homes.

But it’s a real challenge to make those kinds of businesses ‘fit’ into the neighborhoods that need them. Erie Boulevard has a hardware store, a post office, a pharmacy, a bank, multiple restaurants, three (!) grocery stores, and specialized retail like a local guitar store and bike shop all within a mile’s walk, but most of those businesses are huge, set back behind mammoth parking lots, flanked by and dependent on 690. People in Eastwood might want to be able to walk to the grocery store, but they sure as hell don’t want Price Chopper’s 3.75 acre parking lot with all of that car traffic and those glaring floodlights anywhere near their houses. On the flipside, Erie Boulevard is so choked with asphalt that there isn’t any room for anybody to live nearby all those businesses.

Car dependence and excessive bigness go together. No one is supposed to walk to Price Chopper (although plenty of people do out of necessity)—everyone is supposed to drive there. So the parking lot has to be big enough to store every customer’s car, and the streets leading to it have to be wide enough for all of that traffic. The result is a single store that sits on a property larger than the entire Westcott business district. A business entirely out of scale with the neighborhoods that should benefit from its proximity.

So to get more businesses that people can walk to, Syracuse needs more small stores designed for customers who arrive on foot. Dominick’s market in Hawley-Green is a perfect example. It’s small enough to focus on the immediate neighborhood, so it doesn’t need a big parking lot to get enough customers to support itself. It’s a store that fits into Hawley-Green and makes the neighborhood better for the people who live there.

This kind of neighborhood-scale retail is in short supply in Syracuse, but it’s starting to make a comeback. New small stores are opening up on old neighborhood main streets like North Salina, South Salina, and James Street. New zoning laws will make it easier for businesses to better serve their immediate neighbors. New people are moving into these neighborhoods because they want the convenience the comes from living near businesses. It’s all going to make for a better City.