The ubiquity of online shopping has changed how consumers spend their time and money. But even with the ease of e-commerce transactions, there is still demand for brick-and-mortar retail experiences that can’t be replicated through a screen. For the Town of Gilbert, available land and favorable demographics has attracted new investment in both retail and mixed-use spaces that draw customers out of their homes and into the public square.
The municipality’s Economic Development Director Dan Henderson argues that, “retail and real estate matters more now than ever, both where it’s located and how it’s used. The brick-and-mortar experience is changing, starting with the design and structure of stores. As customers carry high expectations with them into the physical store, brands are contemplating convenience as the key element of their store strategy too.”
The Epicenter at Agritopia is just one example of how businesses are offering new experiences at physical storefronts in Gilbert. The development is a mix of retail and loft apartments that has brought in retailers looking to provide customers with experiences worthy of leaving the house. Craig and Kris DeMarco (co-founders of Upward Projects, best known for Postino and Joyride Taco House) and Eric and Elissa Seitz broke ground on a new concept called Air Guitar, which will have 5,000 square feet of interior space housed under a 9,000 square foot canopy—right next door to the Epicenter at Agritopia.
The animating factor behind this growth comes from two of Gilbert’s strengths: the demographics of its residents and having land available to build new projects on.
“Here are the key attributes of the Gilbert consumer: our residents are comfortable spenders, have an active lifestyle, and are tech savvy. The household median age is 33 years old and, generally speaking, it’s a house with young children. This means that Gilbert is a relatively active, young, established suburban community—an ideal environment for those looking to develop retail in the East Valley,” says Henderson.
The East Valley, which the Town of Gilbert is part of, is home to 1.5 million people and employers in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. People working in these high-paying STEM occupations need to not only reside in an East Valley community, but they also bring with them a heightened demand for services and products.
“For those complementary reasons, we’re seeing lots of interest in Gilbert not just in retail, but in industrial and, to a certain degree, the office market,” says Henderson.
Along with favorable demographics, the Town of Gilbert has the available land to build upon and grow. “We’ve seen a considerable increase in demand for new retail projects in comparison to years’ past. As we seek to approve those projects, we look at everything from inventory of land to Gilbert’s General Plan,” says Henderson.
From a land use perspective, the approval of these new retail projects aligns with the Town of Gilbert’s General Plan, which outlines the different uses and zoning categories within the town. The current General Plan was approved by voters with 80 percent support.
“We think about the role of the mix of uses as well as the availability of land. We’re seeing a lot of brokerage and development groups doing tours in Gilbert looking at the different trade areas,” says Henderson. “I think we are able to meet the development community’s needs to accommodate consumers, which ultimately creates demand for additional products, whether it’s restaurants or soft goods. Gilbert’s mix of a low unemployment rate and a relatively young and established resident base creates that ideal consumer for projects like Verde at Cooley Station and The Collab.”
Simply put, the Town of Gilbert has seen rapid retail growth over the last five years and doesn’t seem to be slowing.
“We have a little more than 13 million square feet of retail space within Gilbert with an occupancy rate just under 95 percent. There’s constantly a new supply under construction—we’re looking at about 124,000 square feet of space currently under construction in Gilbert right now,” says Henderson. “Gilbert is a place where people can live, work, and play.”
Online shopping will continue to offer consumers unrivaled convenience, but brick-and-mortar establishments in Gilbert and elsewhere are rising to the challenge by creating unique experiences in curated spaces that cannot be reproduced by pixels.