What Do You Think You're Looking At? #138
I haven't had much success with it yet, but I sincerely think/hope that the best pitch we can make to preservationist-minded NIMBYs is: "Screw those big 5-over-1s, let's just at bare minimum agree to legalize making more buildings like these historical downtowns".
As people with easy access to Amazon and before that WalMart, I suspect we underestimate just how much retail sales even a relatively small city can generate. And many of the surrounding communities were likely fairly small and unable to support their own department stores, while the interstates didn't exist and cars were still luxuries, so it's much easier and cheaper to take the streetcar to downtown Plainfield than an intercity train to Newark or New York City if you need new shoes or clothes.
About 1998, Cincinnati converted the old Shillito's department store, part of the Federated chain (Macy's, Bloomingdales, etc.) into loft apartments. (https://www.cincinnatimagazine.com/article/the-lofts-at-shillito-places-atrium-is-a-window-to-the-past/). More about the apartments here: https://www.loftsatshillito.com/
The city is now working with developers to modify other buildings, including office buildings, into residential housing. With the changes wrought by Covid, it's the shot in the arm to help the central business district thrive.