More and more communities are incorporating a retail component into their communities.

By Steve Moran

I recently participated in a panel discussion at a conference in San Francisco that mostly attracts folks from the hospital world, medical office buildings and freestanding acute medical services (outpatient surgery centers, freestanding emergency rooms, etc.). This is my second time attending this conference and as kind of quirky thing, both times I had been sick and both times I questioned whether it was worth it. But attend I did, mostly because it is just a couple hours drive from home; so easy . . . and I am a conference junkie.

Yet, after each one I have come away with valuable conversations and material for at least one good article.

Is Retail the New Thing

I know that on a widely scattered basis you have been able to find a retail component as a part of senior living for many years. But I am seeing more and more communities incorporate it into their communities. It makes sense for some obvious and not so obvious reasons.  

Old School Retail

Old school retail has mostly been a small gift shop often run by residents that sells arts and crafts created in the community plus maybe some snacks and toiletry essentials. For many communities, retail is not very practical for several reasons. Parking can quickly become a problem. The senior community was built in a relatively isolated part of the marketplace community. Even when buildings are more close-in they tend to be built away from the main road, creating what is in effect a green moat that makes the communities less approachable.

New School Retail

New school retail is a big part of the impetus and desire to build senior living communities in “high barrier to entry” locations. This is most typically a rare and expensive parcel of land in an urban or suburban locale, which means more vertical buildings and immediate proximity to the street. While parking is an issue, these communities tend to be built in areas that are more walkable and parking is dealt with in more creative ways.

The ground floor then creates a huge opportunity for retail space.

The Best Reasons for Retail

There are three compelling reasons to integrate retail into a senior living community:

  1. Being Part of the Community — Too often senior communities are more like islands than members of the community (how is that for a mixed metaphor?). This means that people don’t really know much about senior living. Having retail as a part of your senior living community means getting the public familiar with how great senior living is.

  2. More Like Real Life — It is fairly easy for us to say “Senior Living is Home,” and in a sense that is true except we often forget how profound the change is from a resident’s last day in their own home and their first day in a senior living community. There is hardly anything that is the same. Having retail close by means real anytime accessibility for residents.

    Imagine for instance having a Starbucks in a senior living community. I am guessing that many residents, families and even staff would forego free coffee in the community to have the Starbucks experience, because of the variety it provides.

  1. Revenue Opportunities — In most cases it likely makes sense to lease out the retail space to local or national vendors at market rates. But the other opportunity would be to incorporate the retail space into the community operations. It would seem a joint use pub, restaurants and even a full service fitness club could be wins for residents, the marketplace community and the bottom line.

I would love to hear how you are incorporating retail into your communities.