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Locals drawn to downtown Astoria shopping, analysis finds

Shoppers want staple goods
By Edward Stratton

The Daily Astorian

Published on October 5, 2017 7:56AM

Last changed on October 10, 2017 11:01AM

The corner of 14th Street and Commercial Street in downtown Astoria.

Damian Mulinix/EO Media Group

The corner of 14th Street and Commercial Street in downtown Astoria.

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Two-thirds of shoppers in downtown Astoria come from Clatsop County, according to a new retail analysis by the Astoria Downtown Historic District Association.

The downtown association recently unveiled the analysis showing the need for more staple goods and a focus on locals as a core demographic, with tourism a continually growing opportunity.

The analysis was one of several recommendations by Michele Reeves, an urban strategist brought in several years ago to analyze downtown and recommend improvements. Helping finish the report was Bijan Fayyaz, the county’s former emergency management coordinator and now a project manager with PacifiCorp.

Shoppers and spending

The analysis looked at the number, income and spending habits of downtown workers, residents and students; regional residents of northern Clatsop County and southern Pacific County in Washington state; and visitors.

Two-thirds of downtown’s market was regional residents, and nearly half was Astorians.

“Downtown residents and workers make up the largest market segment with 49 (percent) of all estimated spending,” the analysis said, estimating about 1,300 employees downtown. “Visitors are the second largest consumer segment by spending and are estimated to spend the most per customer of any segment.”

The estimated total direct visitor spending in Clatsop County topped $550 million last year, with approximately half spent on restaurants, one-fifth each on retail and lodging and 12 percent on attractions.

What’s needed

The analysis included a survey of 327 people last year, looking at spending in and perceptions of downtown. Respondents pointed to a lack of access to parking, later shopping hours, diversity of cuisine among downtown Astoria’s restaurants and midtier grocery options.

“Deals Only and Astoria Co-op Grocery represent the majority of this retail category, but each specializes in low- or high-range pricing, leaving the middle section underserved,” the analysis said.

The analysis identified several large anchor stores downtown, including Fort George Brewery, Astoria Co-op Grocery, Astoria Coffeehouse and Bistro, marijuana retailer Sweet Relief Astoria, Gimre’s Shoes and Deals Only. Although downtown contains stores in most retail categories, it lacks large clusters covering the majority of consumer needs.

Astoria is best positioned to grow its retail services base in dining, regional goods and entertainment.

“Our tourism numbers are very strong for the size of the community,” Fayyaz said. “There are a lot of businesses that tailor to locals, and others to tourists. There’s a lot of potential for overlap.”

Grow from within

During a recent presentation by the downtown association, David Reid, a local insurance agent and the former chairman of the group’s business development committee, said the association wants to first use the report to help enhance existing downtown businesses, while also recruiting where gaps exist. One clear result was the need to focus on locals as the core demographic, while earning extra revenue from tourism, Reid said.

Lack of parking, a persistent issue brought up when talking about downtown, is often a matter of perception. Sarah Lu Heath, the downtown association’s executive director, said that the association is identifying underutilized private parking lots that could lease out reserved spots, while working with the city to improve signage directing people to available parking.

The association is looking to better connect people who come to town for large events with downtown and expanding visitation in shoulder seasons, Heath said.

“Do not be scared by Walmart and the big box stores,” said Kevin Leahy, executive director of Clatsop Economic Development Resources. “Don’t be scared by them. This is an opportunity for our region, in the fact that it brings more people into our community. You have to offer the products and services and give the customer service to earn that customer’s dollar.”


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