Remember those vacant big-box store sites that were expected to gather dust for decades? Today, the only dust seen at many of them is the kind that’s getting kicked up by the procession of tenants scrambling to fill them. Minimal new retail construction, coupled with improvements in the housing, employment and lending sectors, have retailers and a host of other users re-filling boxes of all size from Billings, Montana to the Big Easy.
Though deals have yet to return to pre-recession pricing, big-box vacancy is dropping and cash flow is rising faster than many predicted just a few years ago. A prime example: the brisk leasing and sales activity of the nearly 400 vacant Borders Books spaces returned to market following the retailer’s 2011 bankruptcy. Even in economically pressed Michigan, 11 of the state’s 18 former Borders locations had been absorbed as of February 2013 and several other deals are working, a February report in the Detroit Free Press said. One of those is in Borders’ former home base of Ann Arbor, where the bookseller’s old two-level, 44,000-square-foot flagship store is being subdivided into five first-floor retail and restaurant spaces and a bank of second-floor offices. In Billings, Montana, Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts emerged to take over a former Borders in Marketplace West, beating out about a half dozen other national retailers, developer and leasing agent Steve Corning said.
Last summer, Fresh Market took over a former Borders on stately St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans, while in central Philadelphia, Walgreens is moving into a former three-floor Borders where it will mirror new-concept stores that it previously opened on New York’s Wall Street and Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. The store will feature a salon, salads, juice bar, fresh sushi and a doctor-attended wellness center.
The Borders blitz seems destined to continue. A few miles from the Notre Dame campus in South Bend, Indiana, Whole Foods is set to open April 10  in an old Borders, while another healthy grocery, Asheville, N.C.-based Earth Fare, has opened in an old Borders space in Noblesville, Ind., near Indianapolis. “Borders had great real estate and unlike a lot of the vacant boxes, it was a part of that same tribal gathering of tenants that went into many of the modern-day lifestyle centers,” said David Palmer, head of Dallas/Fort Worth development for Dallas-based Cencor Realty Services. Among retailers taking former Borders in Texas are Nordstrom Rack, Container Store and Neiman Marcus Last Call. But not all the Borders went to retailers. A former Borders at Westfield Southcenter Mall in Tukwila, near Seattle, went to Hope of the City Church.
It isn’t just old Borders boxes that are getting absorbed. The Detroit report said 17 of Michigan’s 21 former Circuit City big-box locations are either occupied or scheduled Read the full article