AmEx's New Independent Retail Index Ranks Dallas Low ... Until You Get to Lower Greenville

This morning, we received word of a new report released yesterday: the American Express OPEN Independent Retail Index, which was done in conjunction with Austin- and Chicago-based Civic Economics and looked at 15 big cities, Dallas among them, ranking each based upon the number of independent restaurants and retailers in each city. The report also gauged the impact those businesses have on real estate values in some surrounding neighborhoods. In Dallas that meant taking a look at Lower Greenville.

Survey says that when it comes to independent retail and restaurants, Dallas lags way behind the rest of the country -- 14th out of the 15, to be precise, between Minneapolis and Phoenix. (That's a combined score, incidentally: "When compared to the other 14 study cities, Dallas's Index rankings are eleven for retail shopping, fifteen for eating and drinking, and fourteen for combined.") Which is to be taken with a grain of salt, as the data ends at 2009. That said, it says here that ...

In Dallas, from 1990 to 2009, independent retail shops saw their percent of the market decline from 51 percent to 44 percent, the 4th smallest decline among the 15 study areas. During the same period, independent restaurants and bars in Dallas saw their percent of the market decline slightly from 53 percent to 52 percent.

But Lower Greenville, says the research, is a great example of where indie thrives -- and where real estate's valuable as a result:

In Dallas, the study looked at Lower Greenville and tracked median home sales in the surrounding zip code (75206) from 1996 to 2010. The 75206 zip code encompasses the Lower Greenville and adjacent residential areas, including the area commonly referred to as the "M Streets." Homes in proximity to Lower Greenville and the pockets of business further north on the Avenue enjoyed home value increases that doubled the city average over the period from 1996-2010. The City of Dallas as a whole did not experience the dramatic run up in home prices through 2008 that the rest of the country did, nor did it experience a collapse.

On the other side, Dan Houston, Civic Economics' Austin-based eco-dev consultant, answers a couple of questions I shot him via email this morning.

So, from the Index, it appears Dallas, when it comes to independent retail and restaurants, lags behind the rest of the country. But Lower Greenville, on the other hand, is a bright and shining example of where local thrives. Is that about right? Could you elaborate on that?

That's about right. Dallas was an interesting case (I'm from Tulsa and live in Austin, so it has always been on my "route"). The way we identified neighborhoods (27 among the 15 study communities) was to map independent retail and restaurant sales in GIS, and from that to identify hot spots of indie business. In Dallas, perhaps unsurprisingly to your readers, it was difficult to see any strong concentrations other than Lower Greenville.

In one sense, that is not a bad thing, as it indicates that Dallas indies are more widely dispersed around the city than in most. Dallas has a lot of high fashion shops, for example, near other shopping centers. But it also indicates that there are few other districts where the independents really dominate, and where patrons can find a real cluster of locally owned businesses focused strongly on the local market.

Why did you select Lower Greenville for the study? Lower Greenville is a neighborhood in transition at the moment, and a highly contentious part of town where residents and landlords insist that more retail is needed but impossible till the "bad bars" are eradicated.

That's an interesting challenge. The selection was as I described above. It's pretty common to have some tension between a commercial district and immediate neighbors, particularly when the trade tends toward evening and toward the young, and I don't blame residents at all for that, now that I'm a middle-aged man. Residents near Lower Greenville, of course, live there in part because of the draw of neighborhood businesses. But if those neighbors are growing up while businesses remain focused on younger people, that could be a tough situation.

It was unusual that we didn't find another district with a strong enough independent retail concentration to really show up from the data.

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