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Despite the challenges of COVID, “you just can't bet against Nashville”

Retail might look a bit different than before COVID, but the region’s retail sector is strong. That was the message that emerged from CRT’s forum, The future of retail real estate”. The first of CRT’s 2021 Power of Ten Forum Series was held online on April 29. Facilitated by Adam Sichko of the Nashville Business Journal, the panel featured Holly Buchanan (Katz & Associates), Austin Farmer (The Retail Coach), Margot Fosnes (Robertson County Economic Development Board), and Janet Miller (Colliers).

COVID led retailers to speed up adoption of technology. Holly Buchanan, who through her work with Katz & Associates works with numerous national chains, discussed how COVID put technology adoption on fast forward, with retailers quickly moving to contactless checkouts, encouraging use of apps, and pushing other technology solutions. Because many of these changes proved popular with customers and buoyed sales, she suggested they are here to stay.

Retail space needs are changing. Janet Miller pointed out that some of the changes adopted by retailers are shifting what retailers want in a site. It could mean more parking for curbside pick-up and take-out, less parking for sit-down diners or in-store shoppers, and more space for drive-throughs. These changes could certainly have an impact on the urban form of our communities.

While internet sales boom, brick-and-mortar retail is here to stay. It has been hard for small, brick-and-mortar business to make the changes that the national retailers have. And while COVID and the decade-long move to online sales has impacted that segment of retail, Austin Farmer, who’s firm works with communities across the nation, says their demise has been exaggerated. In fact, he said eighty percent of all retail sales still happen in brick-and-mortar locations, proving that people still want in-person retail and to support local businesses. He emphasized the importance of community leaders working with their retailers, providing them with needed resources and tools.

‘Shop local’ and nimbleness help small businesses. Margot Fosnes said that many of the local restaurants and shops in Springfield focused on building their online and social media presence to better communicate with customers and take advantage of a spirit of “shop local”. In fact, Margot said that Robertson County and its cities saw tax revenues boom thanks to the many residents who typically commute out of the county for work being home and shopping and eating in the county.

Nashville matures. To what degree those commuters in Robertson County and across the region will be going back to offices in Nashville and other job centers is still in question. While there as been much speculation that work-from-home may be the new normal for many, Janet Miller sees most employees returning to offices but with more flexibility to work-from-home part of the time. This, the region’s continued desirability, and downtown’s “maturing market” have Janet bullish on Nashville’s future. “ the end of the day you just can't bet against Nashville. You just can't.”

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