In what's got to be the least-surprising retail move of the year, Ashley Furniture HomeStore is announcing the closure of its south Durham location, with a liquidation sale starting in July, according to a story in Furniture Today.
Make that "lease-surprising," maybe.
The Shopping Center Group -- owners of the Westgate Plaza adjacent to the old South Square Mall site -- had listed the Ashley Furniture retail space as being for-lease since at least January 2009. The company did not respond to an inquiry from BCR at that time about the property's fate. (The plaza is now apparently represented by one Sam Spiegel of Deerfield Beach, Fla.-based Samco Properties.)
In shutting its doors, Ashley will join a wide range of businesses, including Circuit City (chainwide bankruptcy) and Applebee's (2005 closure, reopening at Patterson Place) to have left the center in recent years.
A representative for the franchise licensee that operates the store tells Furniture Today it is "considering alternative sites in the greater Raleigh-Durham area for an eventual relocation."
And from this quote from the representative, it sounds like that's more likely to be in Raleigh than in Durham, given what sounds like a reference to the Raleigh focus of TV and print media buys--
"We're reviewing some other opportunities within the Raleigh area and if the right location becomes available for the right price we would certainly consider other locations," Hodge said. "We want to capitalize on the TV and newspaper media we are currently using as much as possible."
Raleigh and Clayton are already home to Ashley's locations.
Furniture stores have had mixed success in the 15-501 corridor.
A Rhodes Furniture store to Ashley's south shut, likely due to the chain's bankruptcy and acquisition by Rooms To Go; a RoomStore took its place, with a lease running through 2017.
Meanwhile, a Haverty's closed a couple of years ago in the usually-golden I-40 retail belt, along 15-501 near I-40. The Durham-Orange chapters of Habitat for Humanity opened a ReStore retail shop in its stead.
More broadly, what becomes of the Westgate Plaza with this move?
The LoopNet entry lists almost 50,000 sq. ft. out of 205,000 sq. ft. as being available for lease.
But that doesn't factor in 35,000 sq. ft. of Ashley Furniture HomeStore space. Add that in, and you've got almost half the center vacant.
On the other side of the SuperTarget/Sam's Club complex sits the onetime Kroger site, demolished in preparation for University Marketplace -- a project on indefinite hold at best, it seems, due to the challenging economic conditions for obtaining financing.
And as we noted last night here, Restaurant Eden closed up shop in the SouthCourt building just behind it.
The whole South Square area, it seems, needs a big re-think, and that can't come soon enough.
Eventually, of course, a transit line may run near this area, connecting downtown Durham and Duke to Chapel Hill via the fast growing NC 54 corridor.
Three years ago, I'd be saying that we should be careful to make sure the "wrong" kind of development shouldn't fill up the site, to make sure that transit-oriented development (more than the kind of big-box stores that took the South Square Mall's place) replaces any of these dying retail strips.
Then again, given how slowly this part of Durham is moving for retail, I have a sneaking suspicion the market will take care of that all by its lonesome.