Is Lincoln Road Over?

Photo courtesy of the GMCVB – http://Miami

Rent hikes have pushed out the only-in-Miami character of South Beach's pedestrian mall, making it like every other urban shopping destination.

Lincoln Road has sold its soul.

Or that’s what the crying anthem seems to suggest, as more mega retailers like the neighborhood’s recent additions Zara, H&M and Forever 21 stampede into the shopping thoroughfare of South Beach, while independently owned restaurants and shops trickle out.

It was a sad day for all in January when the music stopped playing at Van Dyke Café to make way for a forthcoming Lululemon. With the iconic restaurant and jazz lounge’s shuttering, the bohemian legacy that rebuilt Lincoln Road in the 1990s died.

As it happens in retail landscapes across the globe, it’s the local proprietors who suffer with rent spikes. Lincoln Road rental space now commands $300 or more per square foot (up from $35 in 1999), on par with New York’s Madison Avenue. It’s no wonder homegrown staples like Score, a gay nightclub, and Icebox Café have relocated to make way for an infusion of capital from developers like Tristar Capital, Acadia Realty Trust and Terranova Corporation. (In August the latter two sold six buildings on the street for $342 million in one of the biggest real estate deals in South Florida’s history.)

But as the indie owners fall off one by one, chain retail has found its footing, just as it did in the 1940s, when Lincoln Road was, as Life magazine put it in 1941, “lined with the windows of world-famous establishments—specialty shops like Saks Fifth Avenue and Bonwit Teller, Milgrim; expensive shoe stores like I. Miller and Delman; extravagant hatmakers like Lilly Dache and John-Frederics; hoity-toity haberdashers like Sulk.” In many ways, after falling into decline along with Miami in the ’60s through the ’80s—in 1986, 46 of the storefronts were empty—the now home of Anthropologie, J. Crew and Victoria’s Secret, among many others, has come full circle.

Lincoln Road does retain a bit of its charm. It still has its Art Deco façades, and street entertainers animate most blocks. It seems that what the neighborhood has lost is the heartbeat it needed to stay afloat through the city’s rough patch, a soul it was never intended to have. The end of one era rings in the be- ginning of another, leaving us with a street that isn’t dead, just changing. And whether it is for better or for worse depends entirely upon whom you ask.