Not an omnishop
Grafton stays the course on traditional development

By Melanie Boyung - News Graphic Staff

Oct. 31, 2017

GRAFTON — National trends are showing the rise of the “omnishopper,” someone who uses technology to shop in a variety of retail channels. It is not a universal concept, but one that some municipalities are using to guide their planning.

Last month, the Grafton Plan Commission directed staff to look into changing market trends, planning a possible amendment to the village’s Port Washington Road corridor plan for future use. That followed the withdrawl of a proposal by Continental Properties to build three retail spaces north of Costco on Port Washington Road, including a 55,000-square-foot unit.

Grafton Planner Jessica Wolff said she received no indication from the firm afterward whether anything would come back.

Last week, Joe Berkhahn of Continental Properties indicated it would.

“It was really just to clean up the plan, so we could make it better under the current comprehensive plan,” he said.

Berkhahn said he did not know precisely when the development proposal – named Grafton Commons North – would be resubmitted, but after an internal meeting at his company, he said it would likely be in the next month or two.

Berkhahn said he could not share information on tenants, but Continental did have at least one that is a national retail chain that would inhabit the largest space.

Berkhahn’s news was not provided before Wolff had drafted a new zoning type for the Port Washington corridor to allow mixed business uses rather than exclusively retail, though the plan commission had not acted on it.

“The ideas I was suggesting are ambitious, and are different,” Wolff said.

Wolff suggested a mixed zone that would allow for multiuse complexes. Rather than single-user “big box” or multi-tenant buildings with three or four stores targeting all retail or large-scale stores, as much of the Port Washington Road and the interchange area are in Grafton, she suggested developments that have smaller businesses of different kinds.

A single development could include retail, dining, service and entertainment; buildings could be different sizes or multiple stories.

According to the Omnishopper Project, an ongoing, national and international economic and retail research study funded by MasterCard, omnishoppers research before and during buying; while they go online to price compare, read reviews or select the products they desire, many are still going in-store for the actual purchase experience.

“We all kind of intuitively feel that shopping patterns are changing … but they’re not just changing for us, it’s national,” Wolff said.

Omnishopper Project research indicated that today’s shoppers seek an experience, rather than just shopping. The trend is national, leading to more communities encouraging greater varieties of development in single areas, creating walkable and bikeable environments in which consumers can spend a day in shopping and entertainment, rather than going to a store to pick up an item, and then leave.

“Mixed-use developments are currently the best solution for addressing an increase in demand for walkable spaces that include retail, food, fitness, office, residential and other facilities in proximity to one another,” wrote planner Mike Slavney.

Slavney is director of planning for Vandewalle & Associates, a firm with expertise in economic strategy, planning and design, energy, food and water systems, redevelopment, architecture and real estate.

Slavney spoke during the Plan Commission discussion; he has worked with the village on its comprehensive plan during an extensive update project that finished about a year ago. He said that new developments are increasing options in not only stores but different use types to attract greater demographics.

While many people come to an area like the Port Washington Road corridor for the big box stores, there are others who would be drawn to it if the area also had more food options, or also entertainment, parks or fitness spaces.

Information from ECE Market Research, a research team dedicated to survey and analysis of consumer behaviors, indicates 40 percent of shoppers decide where to shop based on available food options.

Grafton Village President and Plan Commissioner Jim Brunnquell said he wanted to start the discussion locally because of the changes nationally with the rise of millennials and the omnishopper, but accepted the will of the commission to keep zoning as it is. His goal was to stay aware of the changing market, and ensure Grafton keeps itself informed and prosperous.

“When you have a changing dynamic, we have to be nimble, we have to be agile,” he said.