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Walnut Creek Magazine

Millennials Find Suburban Splendor In Walnut Creek

Jun 14, 2023 09:22AM ● By Pam Kessler

Boasting a population of 2.5 million, the East Bay rivals numerous metropolitan hubs. Amid this landscape, Walnut Creek shines as a retail haven filled with an impressive array of high-end shops and eateries, standing out as a sought-after spot for expanding brands. 

These findings come from Michael Berne, President of MJB Consulting, a retail and real estate planning firm based in Berkeley, whose work for the City of Walnut Creek involves decoding market dynamics, especially those reshaped by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"I help cities understand what kind of retail is possible in their districts and what they can do to attract those brands. Walnut Creek is a healthy city in the fortunate position of looking ahead to what comes next." Here are some key takeaways from the report


Pleasantville Charm Meets New York Sophistication

Berne characterizes the city's customer base as upper-middle class, embodying a "preppy, polished style" that melds "New York’s Upper East Side sophistication with Pleasantville charm." Shoppers’ wide range of preferences and budgets are met by retailers like Nordstrom, securing their success, while luxury-focused Neiman Marcus only survived a decade. Berne holds a cautiously optimistic view of the upcoming Louis Vuitton store and Chanel Fragrance & Beauty Boutique at Broadway Plaza.


Walnut Creek caters to a diverse customer base, including the growing "Neo-Hipster" Millennial segment. This group, consisting of 25-44 year-old upwardly mobile professionals, is gradually suburbanizing. Their preferences include walkable streets, locally owned shops, easy public transit access, and good schools. Retailers like Anthropology, Urban Outfitters, Free People, and Apple have found favor among this age group.

Digitally Native Brands

Despite concerns about online commerce overtaking physical retail, national statistics show in-store purchases still made up over 87% of retail sales post-pandemic. Catering to the shop in-person experience, digitally native brands like Fabletics, UNTUCKit, Bonobos, Allbirds, ThirdLove, Peloton, Madison Reed, and Warby Parker continue to open storefronts in Walnut Creek.


Independent Retailers

While Walnut Creek is generally associated with large national brands like Apple and Macy’s, Berne says the city’s historic downtown is a place that sets it apart from competitors, like City Center at Bishop Ranch. A proposed economic development plan under review could curb vacancies and support small independents. As a shopping destination, pulling off both big box and small business success will widen Walnut Creek’s lead over other cities. 

Dining Destination

Downtown Walnut Creek has emerged as a bona fide dining destination and continued to evolve with the trends, but it will need to keep differentiating and innovating in the face of ever fiercer competition. New food and beverage establishments, already open or soon to open, include La Fontaine, LITA, 5 Tacos & Beers, Sweet Maple, Bar Camino, World Famous Hot Boys, Dumpling Hours, Third Culture Bakery, Sweetgreen, Shake Shack, and Model Bakery.

The next phase of the study examines retail centers and corridors in other areas of Walnut Creek.


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