Monday, July 22, 2013

Strip Development on South Commercial: Does a New Beer Business Say Anything about Change?

Beer! It's summertime and that's the time for beer. The growler-fill movement has hit Salem and there's now at least two new ones in the Salem area, including a "fill station" on South Commercial, the B2 Taphouse. How does it fit into the urban streetscape?

B2 Taphouse from Sidewalk:  Not oriented to Commercial Street
As craft brewing has matured, the forms it has taken in Portland have seemed to cluster around either old industrial areas or old (and sometimes new) storefronts on streetcar lines (also old and new). Many of the pubs are family friendly, at least earlier in the evenings, and pubs or breweries often anchor walkable redevelopment phases in changing neighborhoods.

In Salem, both Santiam and Gilgamesh have sited in industrial areas, though they are not super walkable.  Although the McMenamins are known for their preservation and adaptive reuse of historic buildings - like Thompson's and Boon's, which are more walkable - they also have a few older pubs in strip malls.  The growler fill business, as opposed to the pub or brewing business, has been popular elsewhere, but perhaps because of craft beer's reach here, Oregon has been slow to catch on.  But it's happening now, and it's happening in Salem.  And at least in one instance, it uses a strip mall configuration.

Draft Morningside Neighborhood Plan
In light of the new Morningside Neighborhood Plan, as well as the hoped-for TGM grant to look at transportation along a segment of South Commercial, what really are the prospects for neighborhood brewpubs and other kinds of commercial enterprises that are markers for a "walkable" neighborhood?

B2 Taphouse Site on South Commercial; Drive-thru bays
in center of building on both sides
The B2 Taphouse is located in a new-school strip mall. The mall has a front building oriented for drive-thru business, and a back building that is standard strip.  The two parts are oriented towards an inner "courtyard" for car parking.

Side of B2 Taphouse:
Configured for Drive-Thru (just to the right of image edge)
and no Sidewalk
It's so clearly oriented towards drive-thru and drive-in business that there is no real sidewalk from the front of the building to the back. The site plan literally does not expect any circulation or visits by people on foot. (This is South Commercial, after all.)  The owners of B2 have closed off the storefront that faces Commercial so there's nothing that greets the sidewalk (top image).  There also didn't seem to be any bike parking.

In back, there's a little wisp of a sidewalk and part of it is cordoned off for outdoor seating.

Back of B2 Taphouse:  Front Entry on Back Parking Lot,
Minimal Patio
Not surprisingly, on a glorious early Sunday evening everybody was inside. Some were in for brief visits to fill growlers, but others were watching baseball or looked like they were on dates.  Perhaps there are times when the outdoor seats fill, but to this eye they didn't look so inviting.

More importantly, with all the energy directed inwards toward the parking lot "courtyard," this configuration seems unlikely to be something people walk to in significant numbers, not a "neighborhood" pub in any meaningful sense.  It's a driving destination - growlers "to go."

The small outdoor seating at the French Press and Venti's Taphouse show that it is possible to work a compromise with South Commercial - but it's not easy.  And even Venti's Taphouse is auto-oriented, and there always seems to be more bikes downtown than at the South Commercial location.

Word of Mouth and the Broadway Coffeehouse are more like "neighborhood pioneers," walkable establishments in neighborhoods that are being reenergized (and, yes, also gentrified).  But these are older, streetcar-scaled neighborhoods with traditional street grids.  What about newer parts of town with business development restricted to busy, busy arterial roads (many of them stroads)?  Are we seeing here the development of a Salem-styled, auto-oriented brewpub culture?

The combination business of pub and growler fill could have leveraged more walkable building forms on Commercial or elsewhere in the city.  But at lease these entrepreneurs didn't see future growth on that side, and instead saw the growth in auto-oriented business.  So at least for the moment, development looks back to the 20th century rather than forward to new urban forms. It will be interesting to watch other developments.

Redevelopment at the old Weathers Site

On one of the other corners by French Press and Venti's, the old Weathers Music Store has been knocked down, and the empty lot awaits redevelopment.

The Old Weathers Music Store Lot on S Commercial
Can the parking be put in back of a new building?
(click to enlarge)
So here the question is:  What will it take to move the building to the street and to put the parking in back? The area is full of 20th century strips placed behind parking lots that front the street.  So is swapping the positions even possible with Salem's zoning and codes?

With the proximity to the French Press and Venti's, and several other restaurants nearby, as well as the forthcoming Acme Cafe, with principals from J. James and Wild Pear, coming to a site just one block south of here, this intersection and area has tons of possibility to be a restaurant row for middle South Commercial (as distinct from outer South Commercial).

What will the Weathers redevelopment look like and what opportunities will it seize or forgo?  Stay tuned!


Curt said...

I have a hardcopy of the proposal for the Weather's site. It looks nice. 75 ft of frontage, parking in back, with outdoor seating, bioswales, nice landscaping and bike parking. There is a drive thru proposed, but other than that, its a step in the right direction

Jim Scheppke said...

B2 sucks. I won't go there. And I haven't gone to Gilgamesh since they moved out of downtown to the burbs. If you want to drink beer you still can't beat the outdoor picnic tables at Thompson's in the summertime. And the happy hour prices for food are great. Yes, the service is slow, but who cares. It's the best place in town to down a few pitchers in our glorious Oregon summers.

d. davis said...

I think growler fill stations mimic the peak of the coffee boom in the mid-2000s with ubiquitous espresso stands on every corner.

As the article on states, availability was never really a problem in the Northwest and the stations mostly fill a single need: beer to go. I don't really see this as a draw for people on bikes (as anyone who has taken a six-pack on a mountain bike trip will attest, the contents won't stay carbonated for long.)

Also, you left out one of Salem's better pub examples: f/Stop Fitzgerald's.

Located in a moderately bikeable location (more so than Thompsons I'd say) within an established neighborhood. There are usually a few bikes locked up to the railing in front or around the outside seating area. While they will fill your growler they succeed more on the neighborhood pub feel where you stop and enjoy time with fellow revelers.

Curt said...

You ask if Salem's zoning allows the swap with parking in back. IIRC the code now requires at least 30 ft. of building frontage facing the street. Maybe that explains the "sideways" orientation of some newer developments like Vista Place.

Gilgamesh is a pretty bikable destination. The route has bike lanes the whole way. The patio and lawn are beautiful with live music and outdoor movies in the summer. No bike racks though. I'm personally not a fan of their food or the beer but I try and support them anyway. According to their latest FB post they are bulldozing some trees and landscaping for more parking. Sigh...

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

@Curt Glad to hear the Weather's plan looks ok! And thanks for the info on 30ft of frontage. The sidewalk on Madrona, btw, craps out at the pump station - there should be a foot bridge across the creek at about Douglas Avenue! That would make for much more attractive biking and walking connections to Gilgamesh. Sorry to hear about the lot pavement plan...

@DD Coffee shacks is a good comparison and brings to mind the Cupcakes thing. It may not be a business model that persists the way the pub or brewery has persisted - especially since pubs, as you point out, can also conduct a growler business on the side.

As for bike racks, it seemed remarkable that permitting didn't require them at construction or at tenant improvements for the new business. But yeah, probably not so important for the growler business. And thanks for the f/stop info!

@Jim Have you biked to Thompsons? It's not impossible, but it is on the section of Liberty between Browning and Commercial sans bike lanes. But it is walkable, and definitely serves a neighborhood in addition to being a larger draw.

Anonymous said...

One of the more established and walkable neighborhoods that is desperately lacking a nice pub is Englewood/Court/Chemeketa.

Anonymous said...

The Englewood-Court-Chemeketa neighborhoods are desperately lacking a nice pub. It's one of the most walkable/bikeable areas of Salem.

Anonymous said...

The SJ says Panera:

"Panera Bread plans to open a second Salem area location in a new building planned for the former Weather’s Music Corp. site on 2825 Commercial St. SE....

In December, a Panera Bread store opened at 6110 Keizer Station Blvd in Keizer. The Panera Bread on Commercial St. SE. will be a company-owned store, Rushing said. Like the Panera Bread in Keizer, the new location will include a drive-through window.

Panera Bread officials liked the spot along Commercial St. SE because of its proximity to downtown Salem, Rushing said. Developers are looking for another retail tenant to occupy the remaining space in building planned for the Weather’s site.

Panera Bread operates 1,708 company-owned and franchise-operated bakery-cafes in 44 states and in Ontario, Canada. The stores operate under the Panera Bread, Saint Louis Bread Co., and Paradise Bakery & Café names.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks for the Panera info!

As for Englewood-Court-Chemeketa, indeed, wouldn't a family-friendly neighborhood pub be great! All the close-in, walkable neighborhoods should have one. It'll be interesting to see where Salem Ale Works and Vagabond Brewing go in. Maybe they'll choose something convenient to an underserved neighborhood!

Anonymous said...

CB2 has info and a picture on the weathers development, and like Curt (comment 1) said, it shows nice landscaping, street frontage, and parking in back -!/projects/in_progress/_2825commercial