Veggie carts, pharmacy carts, beer carts: PDX's coming sidewalk retail paradise
This guest post is by Michael Andersen of Portland Afoot, PDX's 10-minute newsmagazine about buses, bikes and low-car life.
In this third post of my series for WPC about the pedestrianization of Portland retail, let's think about what successful sidewalk-oriented businesses might look like.
Here's what I think: They'll look like food carts.
Food carts, which cluster into pods that function as the food courts of Portland's Transit Mall, are the signs of a city that's shifting away from automobiles – and not just because they're usually located on a former parking space. They require a vibrant sidewalk culture (to turn a profit, a cart pod needs about 75 to 100 passers-by per cart per day) but their low-overhead business model lets them survive on a fraction of the sales volume of, say, a McDonalds (1,400 visits per weekday).
Unlike strip malls and big-box stores, a successful food cart doesn't need to lure patrons from miles away. It just needs to lure in the neighborhood.
I stole this insight from my colleague Chris Smith, a Portland planning commissioner and one of Portland's savviest transportation thinkers. In the first post of an insightful trilogy about what makes food carts work, Smith asked a fascinating question:
"How many of the essential services for a neighborhood could be delivered via a cart?"
At the time, I wrote in a comment to Chris that neighborhood watering holes, the anchor of most 20-minute neighborhoods, would never get past zoning boards. Oops. As Portland's consumer habits shift along with its commuting habits over the next 30 years, here's to many more pleasant, profit-generating surprises to come.
The April issue of Portland Afoot's 10-minute newsmagazine ranks the metro area's best employers for low-car commuters. WPC supporters can subscribe for $10 a year with coupon code WPCWALKS.
Creative Commons food cart photo by Flickr user Johnjoh.