One local real estate broker theorized that perhaps it is Lanier's European background -- he's originally from Vienna -- that allowed him to foresee the "growing popularity of pedestrian-friendly shopping" and the potential of the then run-down area with its historic buildings and narrow, walkable streets.
Lanier's first important anchor tennant for the neighborhood was
Rachel D. Kohler, the president of Kohler Interiors, who was seeking to open the first retail store for Baker, an upscale furniture line.
"We had come upon one sanitized cement box in a mall after another," Ms. Kohler recalled. She found herself drawn to Mr. Lanier's idea of a European-style shopping street, even though the space he showed her was next to a tattoo parlor.
Suburbs in MetroWest that continue to stress auto-centric development while ignoring the importance of pedestrian-appealing streetscapes that offer a sense of place, may be doing so at their economic peril. Natick, for example, is betting on expanding an externally unattractive, tired conventional mall, surrounded by an ocean of asphalt with an actively pedestrian-hostile outdoor environment, to woo upscale retailers and shoppers. However, upscale shopping trends are moving in quite another direction.
Update: Here's another example of ambiance as a crucial component to revitalization success: In two Iowa cities, new Centro restaurants offering "a mix of moderately priced food, urban atmosphere and connections to nearby coffee shops, music venues and performances are pulling people downtown," the Des Moines Register reports. "A patio bumps up against the street, giving Centro the feel of a European cafe. ...
"In Centro, many see a business model that has transformed downtown from a place that can sustain a restaurant to the place to go."
Successful ingredients: Appealing outdoor streetscape, critical mass of destinations where you can park once and walk to many, and a place that's attractive to people strolling and sitting outside, not simply driving and parking.
(Thanks to Planetizen for that Des Moines Register link.)