Providence Retail Presents Signs of a Strengthening Economy

by David Cohen

The Rhode Island retail market has seen a considerable level of activity over the last year that presents promising signs of a strengthening economy and an improving property market. Generally speaking, each submarket has seen positive absorption of retail space, with the new concepts entering the market for the first time, as well as existing operators further expanding their footprints and market share. From street retail to lifestyle and big-box centers, each class has seen significant activity that represents a much healthier retail climate than popular opinion and media reporting might suggest.

Some specific transactions are worth noting. Garden City Center in Cranston continues to outperform as the dominant outdoor shopping destination in the greater Providence market. This past year, The Wilder Companies built an approximately 29,800-square-foot addition at Garden City, which allowed them to bring Boston favorites Legal C Bar and Tavern in the Square to town. These are the first Rhode Island locations for both operators, which points to the strength of the local Rhode Island economy as well as the faith tenants have in the long-term viability of the best retail projects.

Wilder was also able to bring The Simple Greek, Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza, Z Gallerie and Ethan Allen into the center this past year. The Ethan Allen deal is especially noteworthy, considering they took approximately 6,000 square feet of space, which is a far cry from their traditional 20,000-square-foot stores. This new smaller prototype for the traditionally big box retailer is a good example that the best retailers continue to “right-size” their brick-and-mortar footprints to remain as efficient and competitive as possible. Z Gallerie is an exceptionally unique lifestyle brand that is new to the market; the retailer opens  a limited number of locations within major metros.

Thayer Street, located within the Brown University campus in Providence, continues to be the darling of metro Providence. With sexy curb appeal along this active streetscape, this vibrant urban retail corridor continues to attract tenants. New tenants along Thayer Street include Denali Outdoor, which leased 10,000 square feet, making it one of the largest retailers on the street. As an extension of the success of Thayer Street, the neighboring Wayland Square also continues to see growth of high-quality operators, with the recent addition of West Elm giving the area new-found notoriety. Pawtucket also offers urban infill retail opportunities in a variety of gentrifying neighborhoods.

Jed Hayes
SullivanHayes Northeast/TCN Worldwide

South Coast Marketplace in Fall River, Massachusetts is a true retail success story that shows that proper merchandising, leasing and physical upgrades can bring to a dying retail property back to life, even in today’s increasingly tough environment. Although a Massachusetts address, this submarket is included in the greater Providence MSA. Originally built as New Harbour Mall, the center had become almost totally vacant, including the enclosed mall space, after losing Kmart and Walmart. By tearing down the mall, upgrading the architecture, landscaping and merchandising plan, the developer was able to “make lemonade out of lemons.” Today, South Coast Marketplace is anchored by a Market Basket, TJ Maxx, PetSmart, Ulta, Five Below, Verizon, Starbucks, 110 Grill, and Qdoba. The success of South Coast Marketplace has improved the overall Fall River submarket and resulted in additional deals, as evidenced by Aldi and Ocean State Job lot opening in the vacant Shaw’s box across the street later this year.

Other noteworthy activity includes Dick’s Sporting Goods relocating from its existing location on Bald Hill Road in Warwick to the Rhode Island Mall, Market Basket taking over the former Sam’s Club in Warwick and At Home opening stores in Warwick as well as Seekonk, Massachusetts. Active retailers that are either new to the market or continue to fill out their metro Providence expansion include Aldi, LA Fitness, and Chick-fil-A.

Although retail has had lots of bad press of late, you wouldn’t know that to be the case by the amount of activity in the Providence MSA.

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