An ongoing exploration of the Boulder retail base and retail-related city policies.

  1. Plan

    2019 - 2020

  2. Community Engagement

    2018 - 2019

  3. Implement

    2021 - 2023

Current Phase

Project Overview

The Citywide Retail Project was initiated in 2018 to pursue the retail-related goals of the most recent update to the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan (BVCP) and to expand upon the 2018 Downtown Retail/Vibrancy Study by examining Boulder’s retail base citywide. The project’s first phase was a three-part study of Boulder’s retail base; its regional retail industry performance; and input from Boulder retailers and shoppers. A preliminary update on the study was presented for discussion at a City Council study session on May 21, 2019 and the final findings of the Citywide Retail Study were presented to City Council on July 9, 2019 for a discussion of their primary objectives for a citywide retail strategy. The primary objectives for the strategy were determined to be:

  • Address retailer challenges - the top priority should be to respond to retailer concerns with the ease and cost of permitting and licensing. Other top priorities are to reduce small business costs, and address talent retention challenges related to housing affordability and transportation/access. 
  • Respond to unmet shopper needs - expand walkable retail access through infrastructure, zoning and incentives. Respond to shopper requests for more affordable and inclusive retail.
  • Continue to monitor Boulder’s retail base performance - keep an eye toward the impact of an evolving retail industry on Boulder’s sales tax revenues; understand whether Boulder’s currently strong “pull factor” in most retail categories is a recent phenomenon; and explore whether the study finding of declining food store sales is unique to Boulder or reflective of broader shifts in consumer behavior. 

Using council’s primary objectives as a strategic framework, staff spent the next seven months engaging both internally across multiple city departments and externally with a diverse community of stakeholders. The City Council also requested that staff conduct additional analysis to support development of the strategy. The findings from the additional research was included in an Information Packet for the Jan. 21, 2020 Council Meeting.

The final Citywide Retail Strategy was presented to City Council in April 7, 2020, with a progress update on May 18, 2021. Staff intends to return to council in 2023 with an update of the data collected in the Citywide Retail Study.

Citywide Retail Strategy

The strategy has six components intended to align with and support existing city work plan items.

  • Strategy 1. Improve small business experience with permitting and licensing. Building upon the recent improvements completed and underway with Planning & Development Services and the Finance Department, continue to improve the customer experience for small businesses in the permitting and licensing processes to provide efficient, consistent and predictable service.
  • Strategy 2. Reduce small business costs. Enhance the viability of small and independent retailers:
    • a. Support existing city programs/pilots that promote the creation of permanently affordable commercial space and the retention of small and independent retailers.
    • b. Maintain and enhance programs to reduce small business operating costs, such as Partners for a Clean Environment (PACE), advisor services and financial rebates for efficiency upgrades.
    • c. Remove or reduce regulatory barriers to “right-sizing” retail to promote the private creation of affordable commercial spaces.
    • d. Conduct economic impact studies when new policies are being considered that may increase small business costs and explore possible tools to offset these costs.
  • Strategy 3. Streamline online support for small businesses. Respond to council’s suggestion to create a “one-stop shop” portal on the city’s website for how to start a business in Boulder, local regulatory requirements, and programs that support small businesses. Include information to support worker retention, i.e., existing affordable housing and worker access products.
  • Strategy 4. Expand geographic access to retail. Complete the East Boulder Subcommunity Plan engagement effort to establish a process for expanding walkable access to retail that results in recommendations to the Planning Board for the use table update.
  • Strategy 5. Expand access to affordable/inclusive retail. Pilot a tenant recruitment program to attract retailers who sell affordable and inclusive goods, including a community engagement process to establish priority businesses or business types.
  • Strategy 6. Ongoing monitoring. Continue to monitor the performance of the city’s retail base, and periodically revisit the goals of the Citywide Retail Project.
    • a. Maintain the existing retail base financial reporting on the city’s website.
    • b. Revisit key benchmarks of the citywide retail study in five years to assess progress toward goal achievement.

Community Engagement

The City of Boulder wants to know whether the goods and services available in Boulder meet the needs of its residents and workers of all ages, incomes, backgrounds and areas of the city. Community members were invited to participate in a questionnaire during the Citywide Retail Project study phase. Additionally, staff reached out to retail business operators with a separate retailer questionnaire. The shopper questionnaire received almost 900 responses, and the retailer questionnaire received close to 60 responses. The information collected, as well as other analysis conducted in the preliminary data gathering phase, was shared with the public as part of a presentation to City Council on May 21, 2019.

Public outreach in the data collection phase included:

  • Mailer to 6,000 randomized Boulder households
  • Postcards distributed at public libraries, recreation centers, senior centers, the Municipal Building, and at various locations throughout the city
  • Promotion at the What's Up Boulder city open house on April 4, 2019, through an "Inside Boulder News" feature, and on the city's social media platforms
  • In-person interviews at Boulder Housing Partners, Emergency Family Assistance Association, and through the city's Community Connectors
  • In-person engagement at more than 100 Boulder retailers throughout the city
  • Engagement to reach employee populations through community partners such as the Boulder Chamber, Downtown Boulder Partnership, The Hill Boulder, University of Colorado, Boulder County
  • Youth engagement through the city's Youth Opportunities Advisory Board, and Families and Educators Together