New stores open, Old spaces remain vacant

By Andy Jenks - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – New retail stores are popping up in Richmond, just in the time for the holidays, but there's also plenty of "vacant" space that threatens to pull the economy downward.

Counties and cities benefit when stores are full and even though the retail market is struggling when compared to past years, analysts say there's reason to think things are looking better. On its first official day in Short Pump, "REI" brought in 700 customers as soon as the doors were opened.

"It was right. We had the right members, the right activities, the right partnerships here to be able to make it happen," said Michelle Peck, REI Store Manager.

The outdoor superstore joins a host of other brand new shopping destinations, but for every REI, HomeGoods, or hhgregg...there's a vacant S&K, or Circuit City location that's still available.

"A lot of retailers out there that want to do stores, locals, franchisees, can't get the financing that they need," said Connie Jordan Nielsen, Senior Vice President of Thalhimer.

The vacancy rate for metro Richmond retail spots continues to rise. It's 6.8% now - up from 5.6% a year ago, and 6% the year before that. Not a dramatic increase, but still one that concerns the retail industry, and local governments, which depend on sales and property taxes.

"There's definitely downward pressure on the tax base," said Connie.

According to analysts at Thalhimer, though, the market appears to be stabilizing, and there aren't a lot of retailers leaving. Several unspecified deals are pending.

"You start having vacancies in the markets, so that's pushed the rents down a little bit, but made it easier for other tenants to come in and made those deals," Connie said.

Having already made its deal, REI is banking on more positive momentum heading into the holidays.

"We have a lot of folks here who are rooting for us and with the close proximity of a lot of outdoor recreation. We knew that we would be well received," said Michelle.

Thalhimer analysts couldn't say which stores are considering the region, but they expect growth to remain slow until consumer spending gets back to normal. 

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