AUGUSTA — A wave of new national retailers and restaurants are expected to open at the Marketplace of Augusta later this year, while a new development near the city’s other shopping center a few miles south — Augusta Crossing on Western Avenue — has seen two new businesses open in the last month.
Attracting national chains and the construction of the buildings that will house them are signs the recent recession, in terms of retail development, is ending in the region, said the city’s deputy director of development services Keith Luke.
“After many years of when construction, renovation projects were at a standstill, the logjam has been broken, and I think — the construction industry in particular — everybody’s ready to get back to work,” said Luke. “It’s a good sign for the economy of the central Maine region.”
A 15,000-square-foot building under construction at the Marketplace of Augusta, once completed this fall, will be home to Chipotle Mexican Grill, Yankee Candle, Supercuts, Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt, Elevation Burger and two other small retailers.
On the other side of the same parking lot, the former location of Gap, which closed in January, is being divided into three spaces. Charming Charlie, a women’s accessory store, and Maurice’s, a women’s clothing store, will open in the newly renovated spaces, along with third retailer, said Laurel Sibert, vice president of corporate marketing for WS Development Associates, the firm that owns the marketplace. They are still looking for a tenant to occupy the final space, she said.
Across the city, at the new development near Augusta Crossing, Men’s Wearhouse and U.S. Cellular opened stores in a newly constructed 11,000-square-foot building about a month ago. There are two open spaces in the building for another retailer and a restaurant.
The new development, called Journal Square because it occupies the former location of the Kennebec Journal, is also home to the regional headquarters of Bangor Savings Bank and a Goodwill retail store in separate buildings.
The manager of the Men’s Wearhouse store, Najeeb Sanouri, said business at the store, which opened March 19, has been better than expected. He thinks part of the reason is the region has been without a dedicated men’s clothing store since the 1990s.
“People are excited to have us up here, so they don’t have to drive to Portland or South Portland or Freeport,” Sanouri said.
Josh Benthien, a partner at the developing company, Northland Enterprises in Portland, said the company is in negotiations with another national retailer for one of the open spaces. The developer is also planning to construct an outdoor patio for the restaurant space.
He said there’s a demand for more restaurants in the area because of the amount of traffic coming from the Maine State House, about three miles away and on the other side of Interstate 95.
“There’s enough volume of people and traffic that they’re excited. There’s a lot of national chains that aren’t there yet,” Benthien said.
National retailers examine the demographics and other economic indicators of a region before expanding there, and they know what demographics are needed for a successful location, said Daniel Butler, vice president for community integration at the National Retail Federation.
Most retailers plan expansions several years in advance, but they could decide to speed up their efforts if the market changes suddenly, he said.
“When you’re picking a location, you really have to think, âWhere am I going to prosper?'” Butler said.
Luke said the new retailers and restaurants both at Augusta Crossing and the Marketplace are the type of development the city expected at those locations, and the fact that they’re locating there bodes well for the economy of the region and the state.
He thinks one of the major reason for the recent interest was the construction of MaineGeneral Health’s new hospital, a few miles north of the Marketplace and employing well over 1,000 people. The $312 million Alfond Center For Health opened in November and combined services from MaineGeneral hospitals in Waterville and Augusta.
“It would be difficult to overestimate the impact the new MaineGeneral facility has had on the greater Augusta economy,” Luke said. “It’s a huge boom.”