Neighborhood centers have been gravely impacted by the pandemic. However, these retail properties have become an integral part of the community and often serve as community gathering spaces. After the pandemic, they will continue to play an important role.

“Neighborhood centers are more than just a collection of shops, service providers and restaurants—they are also central gathering places for the local community. This is a highly important role that must be supported by the centers’ design and various aesthetic elements,” Greg Lyon, chairman and principal at Nadel Architecture + Planning, tells

Nadel is working with property owners now to revamp centers to evolve with the new market. Freedom Plaza, a current project for the firm, is a great example. When Nadel designed Freedom Plaza, a recently completed brand-new neighborhood center that serves as the retail element for Jordan Downs mixed-use development in Watts, California, we knew how important it was to incorporate the rich heritage of the people of Watts into the center’s design,” says Lyon. “Since this project was a redevelopment of a residential community that was built for housing as returning military personnel and had devolved into drug-ridden projects, we wanted to design a retail center that would revitalize the neighborhood and provide a positive place for the community to gather, socialize, dine, and shop.”

While these properties are sure to find their footing—for landlords willing to see to it—they have certainly been impacted by the pandemic; however, the strong presence of daily needs tenants have helped to mitigate part of the impact. “While some luxury retail and lifestyle centers have struggled with significantly reduced foot traffic during the pandemic, neighborhood centers have been dealt less of a blow,” says Lyon. “These centers by nature are tenanted by daily-needs retailers and service providers like grocery stores, quick-service restaurants, drug stores, and dry cleaners—businesses that are considered essential for most people. As such, these tenants were allowed to remain open and operational in the large majority of the country—albeit with safety precautions in place for staff and customers, such as social distancing and mask wearing. Curbside pick-up and home delivery have also kept tenants at these centers relevant during the pandemic.”

In fact, the performance of many of these centers through the pandemic has helped to illustrate their resilience. “The essential nature of neighborhood centers makes them not only COVID-proof but also recession proof and therefore well positioned to weather virtually any emergency situation that might arise now or in the future,” says Lyon. “Well-designed and tenanted neighborhood centers will always be the lifeblood of towns and cities across the country, regardless of crises like COVID.”