Burlington Clears the Way for Creative, Experiential Retail Use

March 3, 2022

New zoning helps town reimagine and revitalize local business sector


Burlington, MA – The Town of Burlington has introduced a key set of innovative zoning use by-laws for retail space that will breathe new life into the local business sector by allowing for more creative tenant opportunities to fill retail spaces and attracting a new brand of customers who are seeking more personalized and fully-immersive shopping experiences.

Burlington’s zoning use now includes experiential retail (“Retail, Experiential & Commercial Interactive Venue”) which offers local customers unique experiences beyond browsing or buying products. Experiential retail stores use advanced technology, virtual reality, audio/visual media, exclusive in-store services or events to create memorable in-store experiences.

Complementing experiential retail, Burlington’s zoning use also allows business owners to transform physical retail stores into places for music, dance, art or trade-specific instruction (“Educational Use, For-Profit”).

The town’s new zoning use by-laws, which haven’t been updated in 55 years, were adopted to ensure the town remains competitive as a commercial and amenity hub amid evolving market conditions and changing consumer preferences exacerbated by the pandemic.

“Consumers can go online and buy just about anything so it is critically important that Burlington provides shoppers with a solid value proposition as to why they should make the effort to come into local stores,” said Melisa Tintocalis, Economic Development Director for the Town of Burlington. “The new zoning by-laws will create unique options for customers who are eager to explore and engage – whether its interactive dressing rooms or pottery classes.”

Research shows new technology and increased e-commerce platforms have led to the decline of apparel tenants in mall locations across the country. At the same time, consumers are still looking for “things to do” and paying for experiences that draw them out of their homes and together with others.

Retail leasing agents report a high level of interest from non-traditional retail businesses which usually includes some creative/experiential aspect, such as children-oriented retail coupled with interactive educational programs, restaurants with activities, and high-end virtual reality spaces.

Examples of nationally-recognized experiential retail include Casper Sleep based in New York City which allows customers to book 30-minute Nap Appointments at its experiential retail stores so shoppers can fully experience the company’s mattresses, sheets and pillows on their own time. Another example is Vans, the manufacturer of skateboarding shoes and apparel, which designed its flagship experiential store to include an art gallery, skate shop and a workshop that offers free art classes.

Modernizing retail uses is part of part of the town’s Mall Road and Middlesex Turnpike Initiative. The town’s zoning use by-laws have not been updated since 1967.


About the Town of Burlington’s Mall Road and Middlesex Turnpike Initiative

In September 2021, Burlington town staff launched the Mall Road and Middlesex Turnpike Initiative, a long-term economic and land use plan for the area. The initiative’s outreach process included stakeholder interviews which were conducted with local property owners, leasing agents, and business owners. Input from these groups, along with retail data, indicates upward trends in non-traditional retail tenants as well as a decrease in traditional apparel tenants. The zoning by-law amendments offer clarity to those looking for spaces for innovative ideas, creates more tenant opportunities to fill retail spaces, and limits vacancy potential.