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How Retail Is Born, and How It Is Recovering

by Nate Hunter

A few stories from NPR’s Marketplace feature retail incubation and the revival of big box space.


NPR’s Marketplace is one of the best business programs in the country. In the past two weeks, Marketplace has featured two really good interviews about the state of retail.

The first is on the backfiring of Borders’ locations by V-stock and the positive impact this has had. The article also alludes to a shortage of big box space in some markets. Click here to listen to the story.

On a more experiential note, Marketplace featured this interview (click here to read the text in 5 minutes or watch the full 25 minute video). It is the story of BabyCakes, a retailer started by the vision of Erin McKenna. Like many, McKenna started her business in her home before opening her first store in New York City. If you read this interview, in between some bits of chit chat and the recipe for vegan doughnuts, you’ll see the crux of the story: how retail is born.

Someone has an idea and turns it into a business. In McKenna’s case, she started making gluten free baked goods because she thought most gluten free and vegan foods didn’t taste great. She set about to change that, and people discovered her product. She opened her first store in New York City. Now, she has locations in Los Angeles and Orlando (Downtown Disney) and will probably have more.

I’ve written hundreds of articles profiling retailers small and large, and I always ask about the history, especially when I get to meet the founder. All of them start with three ingredients: an idea, an opportunity and a passion for doing things differently. For Gordon Siegel of Crate and Barrel it was the opportunity to import European-designed housewares and sell them to forward thinking Americans; for the Fishers, who founded the Gap, it was retailing jeans in a different way; and for The Cheesecake Factory’s David Overton, it was creating a restaurant that had something for everyone. Behind every retailer you will see today, there’s a story and a passion.

We are always looking for good, growing retailers and restaurants to profile. You can contact [email protected] with ideas.

— Randall Shearin is editor in chief of Shopping Center Business magazine.

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