Westford Valley Marketplace – Experiencing Community in Today’s Shopping Places

“Yes, technology has changed the way people shop. But it will never match the feeling of real-life experiences and sense of community. People will always want to get out, feel good about their surroundings, and to connect with the world beyond an inanimate, one-dimensional screen.” – Andy LaGrega, Principal, The Wilder Companies

Like many of our clients, Andy LaGrega believes whole heartedly that to stay relevant in the retail game, developers have to offer experiences and amenities that speak to the idea of community engagement. That can be a tall order when repositioning an existing retail strip center, especially if it has a continuous arcade, little or no public space amenities, and is generally outdated in its architectural style. Westford Valley Marketplace is very typical of strip centers of its vintage, but along with being newly anchored by a Whole Foods Market, it is being renovated to address three critical design elements in these types of centers.

Curb Appeal in Approach and Orientation:

As one arrives at Westford Valley, the presentation of the existing building facade is a somewhat grim, grey monotonous band at the outer edge of a continuous arcade. The façade provides little or no retailer identity, but it is punctuated occasionally by gable end roof forms. These elements provided an opportunity for the project team to develop a composition of forms that engage shoppers as they enter the center and group tenant signage on distinguishing architectural elements. The roof forms additionally allowed the team to establish a more traditional New England vernacular style throughout the center.

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Overcoming the drawbacks of the arcade:

The arcaded retail strip center is a building type that we are often asked to help reposition by our clients. It derives from an outdated assumption that you had to protect shoppers from the weather to get them to come out and spend money. In today’s market it’s been proven that patrons prefer an environment that is more “open air”… as long as there are engaging reasons to stay a while and visit multiple venues. Since it is often too expensive to tear down the arcades and rebuild new facades in their place, creative ways of rebranding the outer façade and softening the arcade itself with updated lighting, signage, and finishes is critical in these efforts. While wrapping existing steel pipe or concrete columns with new masonry or other finishes may seem intuitive, arcade columns often compromise sight lines to tenant storefront, so care needs to be given to how it is done and how often.

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Making the best of open space opportunities:

At Westford Valley Marketplace a zone of shrubs was originally planted at the outer edge of the Arcade. This zone now provides an opportunity to create an area that is a tenant and patron amenity as well as a real community benefit. By combining hard and soft landscape elements along with new lighting, seating and other outdoor furniture, an active zone of programmable public space can be created along the front of the entire center. Café and other food tenants can spill out onto these enlarged sidewalk areas to engage shoppers and create a sense of place and desire to linger longer. Like all our successful clients, The Wilder Companies runs active programming campaigns, communicated through social media and other outlets, that help to bring out shoppers for unique community retailing events. Small open spaces that provide areas for sidewalk activity are perfect places for these kinds of events to occur, and support the sense of community that is so critical to the success of today’s retail centers.