Here’s the problem: You can take your revenue from your first store and leverage it into an 800k loan which you use to set up a 75-size clothing store in Midtown while also creating your import infrastructure. There’s no build-up and nothing else matters.
Here’s the solution(s): (Please note that they aren’t mutually exclusive and sorted by ease of implementation)
Higher quality districts require a permit to operate in business in there. The current cost of Midtown rents is higher than in GD, but it’s still laughable in comparison. If you had to fork over a million to even acquire the rights to get there, you’d first have to build up a smaller empire in less lucrative districts.
A reputation system where every district has a threshold to enter. Reputation would be gained by having profitable businesses (meaning multiple smaller ones might actually be worth it for a change) and lost for unprofitable (yet open) businesses, running loans (disencouraging that massive spike I mentioned earlier without completely denying it), parking fines or pretty much anything that yields an alert (dirty business, out of stock, no one at the counter - anything that says you’re running your empire inefficiently).
Waiting lists. Frankly, no retail/office spot in Midtown should ever be up for rent longer than 7 seconds, given how easy it is to profit there. This can go very deep: The death of a business might be foreseeable so you can be ready to snatch it up before your rival empires do. Or there’s a new job role in HQ there to analyze the market and look for openings. This could synergize with a reputation system where a building owner might actually contact you about a rental before it lands on the open market.