weeks months ago, following a discussion about when we started Station C and how it had been quite early in the “wave” for that particular type of spaces, my friend Véronique asked me “so what would you start these days?” Spur of the moment and with the flow of conversation, I ended up not answering at the time but the question has come back to mind a few times since then.
My answer so far is pretty vague but still interesting, to my mind anyway. Let me start with a little off the cuff urbanism detour. And keep in mind that all of this is a “reckon”, i.e. just my opinion based on anecdotal data points from walking around.
With the constant rise of online retail and a stagnating economy, there’s a definite pressure on commercial streets and some are showing signs of wear, sometimes with block after block pockmarked with ‘for lease’ signs. Look at some of those streets though and it’s no wonder; every space is for retail, no mix, only store fronts. Some of the streets with a better mix seem to do better, I’m not sure how long pure retail streets can last (except for some downtowns). I don’t know how it can be done but I hope some of the larger ones (St-Laurent and St-Denis for example in Montréal) can find a way of mixing it up a bit, instead of slowly dying.
Then you have the much smaller streets, the ones with corner stores on almost every corner and very few other shops in between, they are also feeling the pressure and more and more of those spaces are turned into apartments, it’s really a shame (and damned boring) because that focuses retail only on one or two streets per neighbourhood and nothing but houses/apartments/condos everywhere else. On the Plateau in Montréal there’s been some minimal effort to keep those corner shops commercial but it’s touch and go so far.
I wish small or medium streets would mix it up a bit more instead of being only retail and that the very small ones would keep the mix they have, possibly by finding ways of encouraging small coworking spaces, community spaces, coops, etc. As well as through more flexibility in lease signing, possibly supported by borough efforts through some variation of Renew Newcastle.
Which brings me to my kind of answer to Véro. I think hybrid spaces are where it’s at for a next wave of interesting projects. I’ve already spoken before of hybrids, that time I was focused on careers but there’s also an hybrid trend to be followed in terms of commercial spaces.
Off the top of my head and just in my borough (the Plateau again), there is; a Frank + Oak clothing shop with a barber shop and café inside it. Next door there’s the Art Lounge an art gallery / cafe / book store / restaurant / event space hybrid(!!). There’s a Museum of Jewish Montreal which also features a food space. There’s a Café Myriade inside the Savoie Fils store. There’s a “café for working” called Gab (an hybrid coworking-café) and La Finca, a “café and bureau” with rental meeting rooms.
Up in Rosemont the excellent Nouveau Projet magazine and it’s publisher Atelier 10 setup their office street level and tacked on a well curated shop. Still going north in Villeray there’s Oui mais non, a café (yes, I have a thing for cafés) with adjoining well curated (there’s that word again) retail shop, a beautiful space you can rent downstairs and they organize/cater picnics.
There are also more and more creative / marketing / design agencies who make the decision to take a street level space, often also using it for small events or pop up retails shops. The most recent I’ve seen being the Brad agency with a two story street level space in Limoilou (a trendy Québec city borough) and la SHED have a fantastic space.
So where am I going with this? I’m not sure, quite frankly. It’s more of an intersection I’m seeing; there are a lot of people working from laptops, lots of people with varied niche interests, lots of creativity and lots of spaces opening up. Many have somewhat limited financial resources but more than a few feel a need to put out something in the world that’s not just pixels. Something as “simple” as setting up an office street level is sometimes enough to feel “embedded in real life” but more and more people are also throwing in with a friend’s shop or adding a side of retail to where they work.
For me personally, I dream of a long table in a narrow street level space, a creative studio vibe with a few people sharing the space. More open in front with a couple of tables full of indy magazines for sale in the afternoon, put aside once in a while for a product launch or one off collection. Full height windows that open to the street and one or two small round tables we can put on the sidewalk to share a cuppa when the weather’s nice. (Atelier 10 is a close relative of what I mean and 0fr System in Paris is an awesome variation.)
There are many options for creative people, many paths but often most of those options are not that lucrative, solid or longterm. So maybe pursuing a couple at the same time or banding together is the answer to this multiplicity of fluid options.
Crédit photo : La SHED architecture.