The Case of Disappearing Main Street Retail

This white paper was developed in collaboration with two economic development advisors, Hrishue Mahalaha, Managing Partner of Innovation Economy Partners and Jim Damicis, Senior Vice President of Camoin Associates. Alexandra Tranmer of Camoin Associates contributed additional content, along with design work and coordination.

Based on our experiences working with communities across the country, we wanted to share what we have learned and practical applications regarding the changing retail landscape and what they mean for communities looking to support Main Streets.


As we work with communities and help them develop sustainable economic strategies, we have observed emerging trends impacting the retail sector. Regardless of their size, location, and industry strengths, it is likely that the retail sector comprises an important portion of the community’s economy.

In many areas we see retail spaces that are declining, signaled by numerous storefront vacancies in outdated strip malls with crumbling facades that lack design and relevant amenities. In some communities these spaces continue to decline, while others have already been vacant for several years, leaving boarded up windows and empty buildings in once thriving economic hubs. Yet, in other communities we have seen traditional retail locations updated and replaced by a dynamic retail mix, along with more active public outdoor spaces and thriving amenities to draw in consumers. Often, these spaces are vibrant, active main streets, downtowns, and village areas with a diversity of economic and human activity served by smaller scale retail spaces, and pedestrian amenities that are connected to transportation options and housing.

The retail sector in many communities is at a perilous intersection…