Formula. Format. Familiarity. The retail recipe is tried and true, based on brand dress and standards developed over years and, often, decades. Standards meticulously define everything from the logo to the physical layout of stores. Storefronts, where the visual expression of the brand identity is most evident and most essential, is especially prescriptive. A Barnes & Noble in Miami looks the same as a Barnes & Noble in Minneapolis.

Also for decades, retail store consistency has been harnessed in lock-step with retail center consistency. One space is much the same as the next — a different wrapper on the same standard set of boxes. But as people move back into redeveloped and revitalized urban centers at a higher rate, retailers are refocusing where they will set up shop, moving into Main Street or downtown spaces with different spatial and aesthetic profiles.

For instance, the dimensions of urban retail spaces are almost invariably deeper. In Detroit along Woodward Avenue, stores are 100 feet deep. This is an artifact of a time when stores needed plentiful storage space for inventory. Advances in inventory management and just-in-time distribution have made extended square footage an unnecessary expense, and needs today are much different.

Historic buildings, too, can be encumbered…