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Two-Minute Tour: Boston

A quick peek at IRDC 2019’s host city

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The Numbers

It is a city steeped in history and lore – its cobblestoned streets, witchy past and small-town-in-a-large-city mentality are all parts that make up the sum of Boston. Home to this year’s International Retail Design Conference (IRDC), the New England city is no novice when it comes to shopping on both the local level and the larger scale – all adding to an impressive and everlasting retail footprint.

Boston is the capital city of Massachusetts, and the most populous city in the state. With an estimated 694,583 residents, it is also the most populous city in New England. The city is the economic and cultural anchor of a substantially larger metropolitan area known as Greater Boston, a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) home to a census-estimated 4.8 million people in 2016 and ranking as the tenth-largest such area in the country.

According to the National Retail Federation (Washington, D.C.), retail supports an estimated 928,216 jobs, 656,667 of those jobs coming from direct retail employment (including food services) and with an estimated 73,594 retail establishments in business.

The Pulse

Retail has always had a place in Boston, from its varied independent boutiques across several shopping districts to its department stores and shopping malls. In 2018, the city saw robust retail sales, in part due to high consumer confidence. In an interview with the Boston Herald, Jon Hurst, President of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said, “We saw low unemployment numbers, rising wages and falling gas prices that help Main Street businesses. We haven’t seen such consumer confidence in 18 to 20 years.”

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The Hot Spots

Boston is home to Newbury Street, a district comprised of eight blocks worth of retail, ranging from salons to boutiques, to dining and beyond. Intermixed with household name brands like Dolce & Gabbana and Timberland, Newbury Street also welcomes the local business community, with retail spaces such as the independent bookstore Trident Booksellers & Café.

Newbury Street isn’t the only destination for retail in Boston. A quick walk away is Copley Place, a high-end shopping mall ranging in designer brands from Burberry to Tiffany & Co. The recently overhauled Prudential Center (a quick skybridge crossing away from the IRDC host hotel) offers a carefully curated mix of retail, dining and experiences.

Downtown Crossing, located at the intersection of Washington, Winter, and Summer streets, is also one of Boston’s busiest shopping districts, specializing in department stores like Macy’s and Marshall’s. TripAdvisor’s number one ranked Boston restaurant, Sam LaGrassa’s, is among the dining options in Downtown Crossing, a sandwich bar famous for its mound of meat.

Faneuil Hall Marketplace is the most historically significant shopping destination in Boston. Visitors can shop at boutique stores, like A Hat for Every Head and Boston Pewter Company. Street vendors line the streets and sidewalks, selling Boston-themed souvenirs and trinkets. Faneuil Hall Marketplace also has the most street performers and musicians of any area in Boston.

“Admittedly, it’s hard to beat the crowds in this historical city,” says Alene Bouranova, Associate Managing Editor of Boston Magazine. “But if you want to get a feel for Boston without the nonstop tour groups, head for the Esplanade. The 17-mile walking path along the Charles delivers gorgeous views of Boston and Cambridge, with the added benefit of a cool river breeze. Just watch out for cyclists!”

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Opportunities and Obstacles

Although the cost of living in Boston isn’t as high for a large city as others, one wouldn’t necessarily describe it as affordable, either. Boston also enjoys a lower retail vacancy rate than most other large cities, reaching only 3.6 percent this year versus the national average, which hovers around 10.2 percent, according to brokerage firm Marcus and Millchap.

But the cost is par for the course for this vibrant and diverse city, bountiful in its opportunities for retail. Faneuil Hall Market Place alone draws more than 20 million visitors per year, suggesting that retail at brick-and-mortar locations will always have a place in Boston. “The more a customer goes into a store and they have a good experience, they’ll keep coming in,” said Hurst. “They might have a specific item, but they walk out with something they didn’t plan on. That’s not something you can replicate online.”

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