The new year was days old when word went out that Pier 1 was planning to shut almost half its 900-plus stores. The culprit: Probably the easiest description is that these are not good times for brick-and-mortar stores.
It took a few days but we finally learned the Rome store at Riverbend Center – one of the original anchors there in 2003 – was on the hit list. We went through this in 2016 in Cartersville during another contraction by Pier 1.
Seven months ago, a smaller nearby retailer closed. Payless ShoeSource also was in a free fall and took drastic steps throughout its chain.
And we continue to hear about another chain – also in this “neighborhood” of stores off Turner McCall – is thinking about more cuts as well.
So two spots, maybe a third brewing, on the west side of Turner McCall at the Riverbend/Hicks drive intersection isn’t a good sign.
And yet, as the “Store Closing” signs went up in the windows at Pier 1, massive earth-moving machines continued to prepare the foundation for the next big shopping center in town. East Bend is designed to feature 20 to 28 retailers and restaurants when open this fall.
We confirmed another new tenant on Tuesday – McAlister’s Deli which likely will give Panera Bread a run for its dough. It is scheduled to bring 40 to 60 jobs so maybe it will be a tradeoff with the closing of Pier 1, at least to an extent.
But that’s the kicker here: As one retail center rises from the remnants of another, in this case Kmart, we’re seeing a little stress, age and depreciation just across the street at Riverbend Center. Don’t misunderstand: Riverbend was packed over the Christmas shopping season and Kroger had great reason to expand its foot print from 60,000 to 80,000 square feet a few years go even with Publix and Aldi now in town.
There are many in town who remember when the Kroger in West Rome anchored a bustling retail center. And then there was the East Rome Kroger off Hicks Drive and the adjoining stores of Etowah Crossing. And even the old Riverbend Mall that gave way to Riverbend Center.
It just seems we keep jumping from retail hot spot to retail hot spot, with some later reclaimed while others continue to basically shop for shoppers. It kind of reminds us of the Atlanta Braves – from new stadium to newer stadium to whatever they’re calling the “newest” place as of Tuesday.
And in this era where Amazon or even Walmart will deliver your items to your door step in a day or two, compared to all the hassle of shopping to begin with, you have to wonder why we keep subsidizing and building newer, better, bigger retail. And keep in mind some of this new retail, such as East Bend, come with long-term tax breaks so any money to be made is going to have to come from retail sales taxes.
And there’s the key: increased retail sales. In a market where our growth rate is measured in generous fractions, we’re not exactly creating new demand and we’re not exactly bringing in dazzling new players that will keep locally earned dollars in locally churning cash registers.
No matter who the new tenants are at East Bend, how long will it be to a few of them as well start hanging those “Closing Sale” signs. And if those new businesses draw customers from established retailers and restaurants around town, will we see some of those older shops give way?
Lots of questions, for sure. We hope someone has the answers and not just a big bag of “hopes and dreams” for the years ahead. As much as we support the shop local initiative, trends have changed.