Monday, June 13, 2011

Hot retailers not doing so hot in Gulf Coast market

MOBILE, Alabama -- A burger joint, a discount grocer, a sports apparel shop and Fossil are among the hot new retailers for 2011, but so far the companies are cold to the Gulf Coast market.
"The hottest retailers don't go into the middle markets first," said Tim Nolan, manager of Bel Air Mall in Mobile. "They get the pick of the markets."
The concepts expected to draw consumers to shopping centers include Denver-based Smashburger, which has 100 stores nationwide and is on target to have more than 500 in the next few years, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, which identifies the top retailers every year. The restaurant received a hot concept award in 2009 from Nation's Restaurant News.
Athleta, bought by Gap Inc. in 2008, carries name-brand women's sports and fitness apparel.
Fossil-brand watches, jewelry and accessories are featured in more than 350 stores worldwide.
ALDI, a grocery discounter with German roots, has more than 1,100 stores in 31 states. The grocer sells more than 1,400 of the most frequently purchased grocery and household items, ICSC said.
While the middle-tier local markets don't see the trendy retailers quickly, the new concepts could eventually move into the area
"Watch Birmingham to see who is going to come to Mobile," said Angie McArthur of Prudential Cooper & Co. commercial division. "It's all based on demographics and distribution."
McArthur said that she is working with Five Guys Burgers & Fries and Marble Slab Creamery, both looking for more store sites. She also predicted that Dick's Sporting Goods, which has opened in Jubilee Square in Daphne, will locate in Mobile in the near future.
National retailers continue to suffer the effects of a recession and its credit crunch, according to Mark Kraft, manager of the Eastern Shore Centre in Spanish Fort.
"They may do 20 stores in a year and we may have 80 competing markets," he said. "You have got to get into the top. A lot of them want to come into the Gulf Coast and Southeast, but they lump us with Atlanta and Birmingham."
Local developers continue to pursue the top retailers, he said.
"The hottest names are on everybody's list, like an Apple store," he said. "And national fashion stores. You can't have too many shoes and clothing stores."
The Eastern Shore Centre has seen two major projects announced this year. Publix Super Market is building a 54,000-square-foot store to open in early fall, and Gulf Bowl is building a 24-lane, arcade, sports bar and grill.
Bel Air's wish list includes more food venues, though it recently added both Buck's Pizza and Rock and Roll Sushi, according to Nolan.
"We also hear from our customers that they want more upscale merchants," he said. "That's where we run into a challenge. This is not an affluent market."
Smaller regional restaurants and stores that have found success in the Florida Panhandle are expanding into the Eastern Shore and on Baldwin's beaches, according to Haran Hunter of REMAX of Orange Beach.
"One thing that piques interest in Daphne and Spanish Fort is when I tell them it's less than 10 miles from the Austal plant, which is expanding its employee base to 4,000," Hunter said of the shipyard on the Mobile River. "That's a key attraction for restaurants."

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