Downtown Raleigh has 40,000 office workers, so why aren’t there more convenience oriented retail businesses?

This is a question echoed from the sidewalks of Fayetteville Street. to the offices of City Council.  To find an answer, the Downtown Raleigh Alliance engaged MJB Consulting, (a NY-based national retail planning and real estate concern) to do a Retail Market Analysis & Positioning Strategy for Downtown Raleigh.  They gathered data over a six-month period from August 2008 through February 2009.

This is what they found.

Daytime office workers will typically provide support throughout the weekday for various quick-service food concepts, where diners submit, pay and receive their order at a counter (e.g. Chick-Fil-A, Quiznos Sub, Port City Java.), specialty beverage purveyors (e.g. Starbucks, Morning Times), and other convenience oriented businesses (e.g. CVS and the UPS Store).

So why aren’t there more options available like these?

The study drew the following conclusions:

1. Too far to walk from Capital District . . . 

Most government buildings are located in the Capital District, which was never designed to include retail space.  Workers tend not to wander far for lunch or other conveniences, where the rule-of-thumb is that the typical office employee will not walk further than six minutes, and the Capital District’s distance from Fayetteville Street makes it too far to walk.

2. Faster to drive for Government workers . . . 

Government workers typically enjoy cheaply priced reserved parking spaces, so these workers find it is faster to drive to lunch or for other errands to the automobile friendly places in Cameron Village, or Sunflowers Sandwich Shoppe or Seaboard Cafe off Peace Street.  

3. Government workers have no time to take the bus . . . 

With the Downtown Raleigh Circulator/”The R Line”, government workers potential reach has been widened, but with just two buses plying the roughly twenty-minute route at any one time, it can only operate on headways of ten minutes, and could easily veer off schedule. Workers on break do not have a moment to waste, and such issues of frequency and reliability would likely minimize its use for this purpose.

4. Lack of convenience store size spaces in the Fayetteville Street District . . . 

The Fayetteville District has collected a number of convenience oriented businesses given the presence of workers located within the large corporate office towers.  However, a key limitation on worker-oriented retail in the Fayetteville District is the lack of 1,200- 1,400 sq.ft. spaces with appropriate dimensions on Fayetteville Street, with the excessive depths resulting in several cases in unusable square-footage in the back. Landlords are hesitant to split those bays because they are not confident that the levels of foot traffic on the parallel streets — Wilmington Street and Salisbury Street — would be sufficient to attract interest.  

5. Residential population is too small . . . 

Offerings for the worker are also limited by Downtown Raleigh’s still relatively small residential population. Many types of businesses struggle to survive on just Downtown’s weekday-lunch trade alone, and yet, they do not see the number of rooftops that would justify later opening hours. This hinders, for example, efforts to attract the newest wave of quick-service food concepts, the “fast-casual” restaurants (e.g. Panera Bread, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Noodles and Company).  There is clearly a demand for this sort of concept among Raleigh’s daytime workers, however the lack of sufficient residential density in Downtown Raleigh discourages those fast-casual brands that also rely on quick-service evening trade.


The study seems to conclude that the large population of daytime workers cannot translate into more retail by itself, and must depend on other customer types (event goers, residents, destination shoppers), which will be discussed in future posts to this blog.

Bringing more retail to our Downtown core is clearly a desire of people who work and live downtown.  So what do you think?




  1. Wow, that was an insightful study – NOT. How much of our tax dollars were spent on this study for MJB to come up with those findings? Another good illustration of spending our money on things that most educated developers and real estate professionals could conclude.

  2. DRA hiring a NY based firm to point out the obvious. Nice work!

  3. I would have told them the same thing for twenty five cents. Don’t tell us how much was paid for that study.

  4. The first three points seem to concentrate on state government workers. Logical, since about half of the full time office workers downtown are probably in state buildings. While the state government complex itself is not retail-friendly, it is still surprising more retail isn’t on the surrounding streets. I think in this regard, Seaboard Station is in a prime spot to benefit, but the pedestrian-friendliness of getting across Peace Street is lacking. Seaboard Station is car-friendly, but hidden to most drivers. Many state employees never knew there was a grocery store back there.
    I’m hoping Blount Street Commons’ does a better job at this…but I have a feeling it’ll be so high-end oriented, that it’d be out of the average state employee’s price range anyway.

  5. According to the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, 100% of the cost of this study was paid for by corporate contributions, NO TAXPAYER MONEY WAS USED.

  6. How much money does the DLA get from us (Wake County Tax Payers) to pay their salaries and make decisions to outsource bogus studies from non-NC based companies? Bad decision. We paid for this study no matter how they allocate their funds. Wake up Wake County!

  7. While the information presented to us in the above article may seem obvious, studies actually prove that what we thought was in fact true. DLA’s purpose is to promote more residential units downtown, therefore presenting fact and not just opinion helps this cause. That being said, how this information will be used by the City of Raleigh or other entities will be interesting. All in all I think that the study was not a waste.

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