Au revoir, Aubuchon

News that a venerable New England hardware store chain closed its downtown Rutland location brings to mind, once again, the just-about-insoluble commercial core problem of mid-size cities: most Americans won't spend money where they can't (easily) park.

In large cities the apartment-dwelling natives are used to shopping without POVs (privately-owned vehicles) and in small towns beyond New England, there's usually enough parking around the courthouse square near enough to the facing rows of stores to work reasonably well-but in mid-sized communities such as Rutland City, it's impossible to comply with the mandatory math of contemporary urban planning: a square foot of parking for a square foot of retail, without challenging some aspect of the typical 19th century grid-square streets-and-buildings layout.

Rutland's venerable Aubuchon store set-up had, maybe, 3,000 square feet of retail floor space; by the normal rule of commercial site planning, it would need the equivalent of, maybe, ten customer parking spaces (2,000 SF) loading dock and staff parking, (500 SF) and a share of related vehicle lanes (maybe another 500 SF or so).

The hardware store's 40-foot frontage on West Street offered just two parking spaces.

Just north along Route 7, the Town of Brandon solved part of its math problem by permitting the demolition of a bunch of historic buildings in order to pave way for a couple of parking and service lots (only as big as the in-town supermarket and drug store they serve). In Middlebury, officials paved part of the Otter Creek flood plain to service the Main Street stores an uphill, block-length distant. In St. Albans, planners decided not to decide-the town has done nothing; not surprisingly, the town still has a "parking problem".

On a larger scale and 3,000 miles away, Los Angeles, Calif., demolished nearly half of its downtown commercial square footage-it's now the lowest-density major city in the U.S. except for Youngstown and Detroit, for different sets of reasons. The City of Angels has nearly reasonable parking availability.

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