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City-funded study offers plenty of positives, along with some needs, regarding Canby's downtown business climate .



The city of Canby paid $15,000 for an independent retail market study that shows what needs to be done to attract and retain or upgrade Canby’s existing brick-and-mortar stores.

The June 2016 study, called the Canby Retail Market Analysis, completed jointly by Portland-based companies Leland Consulting Group and Civilis Consultants, finds that the city has many attractive elements, such as a charming downtown, a strong, regional brand associated with nurseries and agriculture and hundreds of thousands of annual visitors to the Clackamas County Events Center.CITY OF CANBY - The city paid $15,000 for an independent study of the future of retail in downtown Canby.

However, downtown Canby lacks a cohesive marketing vision and voice that will attract visitors, including people driving through town on Highway 99E, and tap into the more than 50,000 people who live in the region and shop in Canby.

“Canby is like a Utopia,” Leland Consulting Principal Brian Vanneman said. “We thought it was interesting demographically in terms of incomes … Canby has a real mix of people with different incomes who all live in the same neighborhoods. If you compared that to Woodburn or West Linn it’s different. That’s something we learned and something you could tell as part of your whole story.”

Canby’s strengths, weaknesses

Michele Reeves, owner and founder of Civilis Consultants, is an urban strategist and a current member of the Portland Development Commission Neighborhood Economic Development Leadership Group. Reeves’s experience primarily is in revitalizing mixed-use districts, retail leasing and development consulting, among other skills. After spending time studying Canby, including walking around town getting to know the area, residents and business owners, she came away with strong feelings about The Garden Spot.

“I really love this community,” Reeves said. “Canby is totally compelling and I wanted to move to Canby after I got done working here. The community aspect of Canby is a huge recruitment tool because when you are trying to bring retail to your downtown they want to be part of a community.”

Reeves also added that the city of Canby having a full-time employee dedicated to improving the downtown economy, Canby Main Street Manager Jamie Stickel, is a huge benefit and that Stickel does an excellent job bringing people together and creating downtown events that encourage the town’s residents, and others living outside of Canby, to attend both as vendors and as visitors.

But there is a major issue with downtown Canby, and it stems from the cooperation and synergy among its business owners, Reeves said.

“The community really wants to love downtown but I don’t think they do right now,” she said. “They say they want to come to downtown Canby but they just don’t. There is a sense of disconnection. The retail stores and restaurants downtown feel embattled, and it’s hard to be a good retailer when you feel like people hate you.”

Reeves said one of the best-selling points for Canby is its location just outside the Portland Metro boundary, or the metropolitan statistical area. Right now, he said, Canby has a group of downtown businesses and property owners who don’t really understand the economics of a downtown environment for maximizing sales and building long-term value in rents for their buildings. Additionally, the Willamette River provides a natural buffer to the north that makes Canby its own unique geographical region, she said.

“That’s super compelling because it means you are your own real community — you are not a bedroom community and that is something you have to sell moving forward,” Reeves said. “You’re close enough to the Portland Metro region that you don’t feel like you’re in the hinterlands. And I love your infrastructure. You have a great collection of little buildings, a charming park in your downtown, and some fantastically-completed public (spaces) with improvements like the landscaping, art and banners — those also are a good buffer from the railway.”

Canby’s regional customer base

The Canby Retail Market Analysis finds that as of 2015, a U.S. Census Bureau tabulation shows the city of Canby’s population was 16,070 with 5,647 households, but that same year in the entire Canby market area, the geographical region where people live and come into Canby to shop, work or for recreation, had a population of 50,162 with 18,596 households. (On a side note, Clackamas County currently as a whole has 391,018 residents with 152,737 households.)

Compared to 2000, the city of Canby had a population of 12,859 residents with 4,667 households. The city’s population reached 15,829 in 2010, according to the Census, with 5,647 households in Canby. In 2000, the Canby geographical market area had 15,264 compared to 17,946 households in 2010, the Canby Retail Market Analysis study finds.

The study finds that the Canby Area Chamber of Commerce, the city and the Clackamas County Events Center “should take a leading role in several areas to improve retail recruitment and retention.”

The city of Canby needs to identify what areas of current city code and processes make it difficult to improve a building, and to work together with local owners, developers and businesses to understand where difficulties and roadblocks exist, Reeves said.

The study suggested the city also needs to spur Latino economic development, considering 25 percent of all Canby residents identify as Latino, yet that community within the larger community is “underrepresented in downtown Canby in terms of business ownership and in terms of being consumers,” the study says.

Possibilities for improving that connection include training for Anglo businesses on how to reach the Latino market; outreach to the Mexican restaurants on Highway 99E and the establishment of technical assistance opportunities to help improve their businesses; and assistance to the Panaderia downtown to reach more of the Anglo market.

The city is expected to grow considerably in the coming years, which will drive additional demand for retail, though it is not expected to grow as quickly as it did from 2000-2010. About 75 percent of Canby households are “family households consisting of two or more related people, and the average household size of 2.77 is larger than other areas the consultants reviewed, including similar-sized cities in Oregon and Clackamas County, which underscores Canby’s identity as a family-oriented community,” the study says.

“We were encouraged to see housing coming back in Canby,” Vanneman said. “Your new housing market is returning and retailers will like to see that. Retail follows rooftops and as growth continues retail will be encouraged to move here.”

Comparing Canby’s growth to Portland’s

The amount of retail development in Portland from 1982 to 2016 shows it slowed for a number of reasons. Arguably, retail was overbuilt in the 1990s and early 2000s when credit was easy to obtain and economic growth was strong, which is what led to overbuilding and very high vacancy rates during the recession, more than 20 percent in some locations, the study says.

Additionally, the increasing popularity of online shopping, which requires warehouses but not a brick-and-mortar retail space, led to many long-standing retail outlets closing their doors for good, such as travel agents, bookstore chains, video rental stores, like the old Hollywood video store that remained open in Canby for many, many years, as well as others, the study found.

It remains to be seen whether retail development will return to historic average levels (of about 1.3 million square feet annually) in the Portland Metro region during the coming decade, the report says.

“The short fact is there’s been less of it built since 2009, and it’s no surprise to anybody, but we think that less retail will be built in the future than in the past,” Vanneman said. “Again, online is having a huge effect on retail. It’s likely that people will have a small showroom and keep huge inventory so you can go look at something and they’ll send it to you. In terms of square footage, we don’t expect to see the same amount of retail going forward as there was in the 1980s and 90s.”

The big thing I’m recommending for communities is to keep retail supply so that it is actually lagging with demand rather than keeping up with it or anticipating large future growth in order to keep it successful, Reeves said.

Canby City Administrator Rick Robinson asked Reeves what the best approach may be to convince business and property owners downtown that they share equally in the responsibility of helping Canby to succeed.

“You have to use peer pressure in some circumstances and get them to (agree to) it in a room,” Reeves said. “When they experience that together it’s harder to be the dirt property owner who won’t do anything.”

The future of retail in Canby

So, what is left to work on for downtown Canby business and property owners? Reeves said the town actually is working from a tremendous position of strength.

“We did interviews with a whole mix of people just walking around town, and we wandered around and looked through things through our own lens,” Reeves said. “The three biggest things we heard universally were everyone we talked to hates Highway 99E as it (rolls through) town between Safeway and the fairgrounds. People want that to reflect The Garden Spot and who Canby is as a community, and they don’t feel that way at all. And they really want to love coming downtown. However, downtown is like ‘Beigeville’ — it’s like you are trying hard not to get people’s attention. All I can see from the highway is a couple of buildings. One person we talked to who drives through Canby all the time to go to Aurora had no idea downtown was even here.”

Reeves said having three- and four-color paint schemes is the best way to attract attention to downtown from a distance. People need to be driving by and realize what exactly they are seeing downtown. Additionally, there needs to be some signage at the Clackamas County Events Center that people can read when they are exiting the fairgrounds because right now, without zero signage at that site, visitors have no idea where to go downtown, or how to get there, he said.

“We’re going for the, ‘Hey, check us out’ approach,” she said. “One of the biggest feelings I had in downtown Canby is that it’s vacant, and everyone’s business is closed. I felt that way because I couldn’t see through a single store window in your downtown. (For instance), I was walking by the bike store wondering is it open? Is it still in business? Is it open for business right now? After a while I looked so sketchy the guy was ready to come outside and ask me what I was doing. That is not a good retail dynamic.”

Retail, brick and mortar is about experience. If you are in commodities you are going out of business in the not-too-distant future whether you think so or not, Vannemer said.

“I want (to see buildings with) exposed trusses, brick, wood, daylight, one story buildings with skylights that light up the entire store,” he said. “You guys are like where acoustical tiled ceilings went to die. I would have a hard time taking a top-line retailer and getting them to be successful or interested in downtown Canby.

Mayor Brian Hodson said he agreed with Reeves and Vannemer 100 percent and that the whole downtown vibe of “is a store open or not” is a battle in Canby. Anchor centers, such as the Safeway and Fred Meyer shopping centers, do a great job of setting operating hours and with the look and feel of common areas, but downtown doesn’t have that because it consists of mostly, independently-owned buildings and businesses, Vannemer said.

“You see, ‘Bob and Sue’ (for instance) don’t want to open until 10 a.m. and then they want to close at 5 p.m., but most (Canby residents) commute home after 6 or 7 p.m. and if they come downtown after 7 p.m. almost nothing is open except for a couple of restaurants,” Vannemer said. “We have so many people who live here that commute out of town in the morning but then commute back to Canby by around 7 p.m.”

These all are easily remedied problems, Reeves said.

“Downtown takes its identity from the ground floor businesses, so upstairs (isn’t as important at night) but first you have an obligation to contribute to that excitement in that environment where people are walking and looking into windows,” Reeves said.

The downtown bars have to be compelling in the middle of the afternoon, as well. People shopping at 2 p.m. don’t want to feel intimidated walking down the sidewalk past a bar, and the bars need to contribute to that environment, she said.

Vannemer said rather than getting irritated in investing in market data that no one seems to want to incorporate into their business model is not the right approach, although it is easy it fall into that routine.

“If you’ve invested a lot of money and no one is using the (information) it’s easy to feel crabby about that, but instead of being mad at that market data you have to realize its important information,” he said. “Let’s put some new tools on the table. Downtown people will not be coming anymore unless you figure out what experiences are not happening and what needs to be done to get people to come back.”

Canby Economic Development Director Renate Mengelberg said the retail market study was budgeted as part of the city of Canby’s economic development program to attract more retailers and downtown businesses to town.

"With more retail space expected to be coming online during the next year or two, having current facts and compelling arguments positions Canby well to attract firms that fill missing niches that our citizens now go out of town to seek," she said.

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