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Retail expert says industry focus and collaboration key to survival

Art walk in downtown Albuquerque

Retail has changed dramatically over the last decade and the pandemic has only accelerated many of those shifts to things like online shopping. Retail expert Maureen McAvey, former senior fellow with the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C., says people these days are driven by convenience, value and rich experiences. She spoke with KUNM  ahead of a talk she’s giving for the Urban Land Institute New Mexico on Wednesday, October 20 about the changing retail landscape here and around the country.

MAUREEN MCAVEY: We've seen some middle-sized businesses moving up and joining in one fashion or another with bigger businesses. So they get bigger, literally hundreds of thousands of small businesses and restaurants have gone under, and we're seeing businesses revamp their business. So they are now doing restaurant delivery they're doing as they call it, BOPIS – by online pickup in store. They're doing pickup at the curb itself. So they're revising their business plans in order to compete, they simply have to. And in a place like Albuquerque, you're seeing some of these food parks come together, because you can go there and make a decision when you get there. What do we feel like? Where is the line not too long. In your case, you have good weather, where is the outdoor seating that looks pleasant over there? Let's go there. People are finding their own levels, if you will.

KUNM: I've been here since 2004 and I worked downtown for many years, and I've seen numerous efforts to draw more people to the core and attract retail and other tenants with varying degrees of success, especially in the pandemic. What would make the successful?

MCAVEY: Well, part of it is being really hard-headed. And part of it is being really strategic about public-private partnerships, and making sure that the business community, the community at large, and the public sector are really aligned and focused.

KUNM: I've also seen Nob Hill go through a profound change. There were so many local retailers when I moved here and they've just left or they've gone under even before the pandemic. What is the future of places like that? It's really hard for small, independent, unusual retailers to make a go of it.

MCAVEY: Well, part of it is that they need to work with the landlord so that the landlords don't price them out of the market. And where it has worked well during the pandemic, many landlords got together with the tenants did some type of forbearance on the rent. The federal government put $6 trillion basically into keeping rents and businesses afloat and encouraging people to continue to keep employees. So we really need an alignment of forces and locally we need it as well. So that if we're going to do whatever it happens to be in COVID, whether it's mask mandates or no mask mandates or social distancing, any of that stuff, either it can be divisive, or it can be a way of people banding together and trying to operate as a collective.

KUNM: What are some things that people in Albuquerque should be thinking about to keep retail and restaurants thriving here and bring economic activity?

MCAVEY: Albuquerque has done a very good job of doing some festivals and some special activities. Albuquerque in some ways, hides its wonderful talents under a bushel. It's a great place to live, it has better than average cost of living. It has better than average academic standards, and so a good place to have employees, and it's just not very well known. I would say one of the things that can do a better job is to really talk itself up.

KUNM: Are there model models that people here should look to or talk about or explore,

MCAVEY: There are models around the country. The challenge is to find a model that people think fits for them. But the quick answer that I've found over the years, is that people say, ‘Yeah, but we're not like this other place.’ And that's true. But you could always learn from some other place and then take it and adapt it to what works in your locality.

Megan has been a journalist for 25 years and worked at business weeklies in San Antonio, New Orleans and Albuquerque. She first came to KUNM as a phone volunteer on the pledge drive in 2005. That led to volunteering on Women’s Focus, Weekend Edition and the Global Music Show. She was then hired as Morning Edition host in 2015, then the All Things Considered host in 2018. Megan was hired as News Director in 2021.