Too rich for Providence?

Providence Place

Providence Place

From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal

‘Nordstrom’s announcement that it will close its store in Providence Place, in the Rhode Island capital’s downtown, didn’t surprise me. I was always skeptical that a large high-end department store could succeed in Providence; I’m surprised that it has lasted this long. There aren’t all that many very affluent people around here, and some of them do their expensive shopping in relatively near – and very big – Boston and New York. Boscov’s, which will take Nordstrom’s place, is mid-to-down-market.

Further, the rise of the Internet has posed a huge threat to large department stores in general, except for very down-market chains such as Dollar General.

As I’ve written before, what will survive and, in some places prosper, are some smaller specialty stores with close connections with affluent neighborhoods – e.g., Wayland Square, in Providence, and Main and Water streets in East Greenwich – or in destination/resort towns such as Newport.

Nordstrom’s exit is a blow to Providence Place, and more are likely to come. But the huge building does have something big going for it: It is a very attractive and solid complex made of good materials and all or part of it could be retrofitted for other purposes, such as education, health clubs (with swimming pools!), state and/or city offices and even a hotel or two. It’s not your typical big-box-based suburban mall.

Maybe a company called Scape, which runs student housing in the United Kingdom, Australia and Ireland, should look at Providence Place. The Boston Globe reports that the company says, in The Globe’s words, “that it will spend $1 billion over the next few years to develop privately run student housing in Boston, and it will also locate its North American headquarters in the city.’’

The Globe continues: “It’s a move that could help meet the huge demand for college housing in Boston, where an estimated 36,000 undergraduate and graduate students live in off-campus apartments, and establish a new model for student housing here — independent of any particular school and less taxing on universities’ already-tight budgets.’’ Lots of college kids in Providence, too.

To read The Globe’s story, please hit this link.