The Third Place: Where Retail Meets Community

Posted on 5.13.15 by Kim McClellan in News & Trends

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The idea of the “Third Place” isn’t exactly a new one; urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the term in his 1989 book, The Great Good Place. He describes the third place as that place where people spend their time outside of the confines of their home (the first place) and work (the second place). A third place is a place to be social, to feel comfortable and accepted, and to exchange information and ideas that are the foundation of community life. A third place is free or fairly inexpensive, provides free or inexpensive food and drinks and is nearby and easily accessed. It is a place people tend to go to on a daily basis that feels welcoming and friends new and old can be found there; the kind of place where you become a regular.

Sounds pretty nice, right? But why should retailers and property owners care? RetailWire explains that “We are shaped and defined by our third place, whether it’s a pub, a local store, or what has become the world’s most popular third place, Starbucks.” Of that ubiquitous retailer, Forbes states “The chain has inserted itself into the American urban landscape more quickly and craftily than any retail company in history, and has forever changed the way Western companies market themselves to consumers.” Trendwatching.com, which tracks global consumer trends, explains that retailers who have successfully put this idea to use are “accommodating consumers outside of the home and office, becoming a relevant and useful part of their daily lives offering them surprise, discovery, empathy, transformation.”

When retailers become a third place they increase their brand awareness in the public space; when developers and property owners actively shape their properties into third places, they attract successful tenants and in turn, consumers. Shopping centers that have a carefully curated tenant mix that provides for the full range of consumer needs like convenience, service and experience do well, but when combined with pleasing architectural design, thoughtfully landscaped outdoor space and easy access for both pedestrian and vehicular traffic, they become a third place. Fast Company explains, “Vital third places contain the physical elements—seating, landscape, a connection to surrounding retail and other public activities—that make people feel welcome and comfortable. Spaces that are visible and easy to get to, stay in, or move through are ideal third-place territory, especially when located near public transit and other civic destinations.”

Sukilynn Photography

The Shops at Park Lane is a great example of a center hitting all the marks. With a tenant roster that includes Nordstrom Rack, Old Navy, Ulta and Dick’s Sporting Goods along with Aveda, Whole Foods, Bowl & Barrel and plenty of restaurants like Bar Louie and Grimaldi’s, shoppers from all walks of life have reason to stop and stay a while. Close proximity to a DART station and plenty of onsite parking makes the center easily accessible and very walkable. The most recently opened addition that brings this center to third place territory is The Park, a green space with water fountains, seating, free Wi-Fi and charging stations nestled between a Flagship Starbucks and Zoe’s Kitchen. The Park plays host to public events like GrillFest and Fitness in the Park which offers free yoga and Pilates classes led by Studio 6 instructors. CBRE’s Amanda Gross, who leases the retail portions of the center says, “The Park has been a great addition to the Shops at Park Lane. This area has become the heartbeat of the project. People are using this space as a meeting point and also a place to hang out before or after shopping and eating.”

With the rise of trends like e-tailers opening brick and mortar locations and experiential retail, shopping is no longer about just getting in and getting out. Smart retailers and property owners are creating comfortable and attractive spaces with public amenities like Wi-Fi and charging stations that are giving consumers a reason to settle in for a while, make new friends and discover a new third place.

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