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Why Olive Garden [or your favorite brand] Isn’t in Harrisonburg

There are plenty of reasons to love the Harrisonburg metro area. The City is the fastest growing in the Commonwealth of Virginia with terrific economic drivers (think RMH, JMU, etc.) and is managed by local government officials that have made the decision to invest in the infrastructure projects that maintain the health and further the economic development of the area. It’s not perfect, but the quest for perfection is the enemy of accomplishment. The point is—this area, our area, is great and continues to get better. If it were listed on a dating site—we’d get lots of emails.

To some retailers, many of which are the most desirable to our residents, the response to this great profile is a resounding meh.

The reason is not all that different than virtually every rejection or break-up ever. “It’s not you, it’s me”. They’re just not at a place in their corporate life where they feel like they can commit to an area like ours. We’re still great and we’ll find the right retailer that will make us happy. We’re just not a good fit right now.

There is one slight difference between a high school movie scene break-up and retail site selection rejection—and it’s largely based on verifiable data, not emotion. Here’s how it works.

eHarmony for Retailers?
Across the retail spectrum, software programs that help identify new locations are being utilized in conjunction with retail brokers. The programs compile hundreds and sometimes thousands of data points about specific communities, market areas, and individual locations. This information is filtered through a preset database of metrics common to high performing stores and provided a score. If the score is high enough, there may be a fit worth exploring. If not, there’s not going to be another phone call. Sound familiar?

She Never Liked to Do the Things I Liked to Do

Compatibility of personality causes a much stronger connection than even physical attraction (thank goodness). In the retail world, a community’s collective personality is comprised of the values, opinions, attitudes, interests, and lifestyles of its population, which is known as its psychographic make up. The result is a profile, or series of profiles, used to define a community and determine if it represents a good match for the retailer’s profile. As you might imagine, the target customer sought by Tiffany’s is different than that of Dollar Tree. Likewise, the collective profile of Harrisonburg isn’t a match for all retailers, including some of the most frequently requested. When it is, you get another shot, which is subject to a little more scrutiny as each is trying to determine if this could get serious.

He Was Funny, But Her Laugh Was Annoying

If the purpose of dating is to confirm compatibility, perhaps the early relationship is to figure out what characteristics might drive you nuts. Everyone has their “musts” and “must nots,” some crazier than others. Retailers, too, have a list to determine if a site could be something worth pursuing. Items of importance tend to vary from retailer to retailer, with some more stringent than others, but all pay attention to the same key requirements called the PASTA-V test when assessing a site.

PASTA-V is an acronym for Parking, Access, Signage, Traffic, Area activity, and Visibility. Collectively, these six items determine the appeal of a site for a retailer (more on this available at More often than not, if a couple of these requirements are substandard or non-existent, the deal doesn’t get done. Sometimes, a retailer will want a location, but can’t find the real estate that is suitable based on these requirements. There are several retailers currently in this position as it relates to the Harrisonburg metro. They just can’t find the piece of real estate that is right for them and also on the market.

Que the Lionel Richie or Air Supply

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and, fortunately, we all have our own criteria for attractiveness. Retailers do to—our desirability is the compilation of demographics, psychographics, real estate rates, availability, and all the big and little things detailed above. Like any relationship, there is a lot that has to go right to create a solid match. A tremendous amount of effort is expended in making this determination and when it doesn’t work, it can break the hearts of a community, brokers, landlords, developers, and retailers that wanted it to work. Occasionally though, everything comes together, and when it does, it can be a beautiful relationship.


Tim Reamer provides commercial real estate brokerage and consulting services with Cottonwood Commercial and specializes in retail representation, investment property (multifamily | commercial | NNN), and development projects. Learn more at