Nearly left for dead after a Kroger grocery store closed in January, a New Bern Avenue shopping center is rapidly coming back to life.
After Kroger left, much of the Wilders Grove Shopping Center and its 206,000 square feet of retail were empty – only about three stores were still in business. But the center got a reprieve in February when Carlie C’s IGA opened in the old Kroger space.
That’s generated interest from other retailers that target cost-conscious shoppers. Next month, South Carolina-based clothing chain Hamrick’s will open in the center’s largest space – a former Kmart that’s been vacant for 10 years.
Hamrick’s plans to open around Sept. 9, having moved out of its smaller space in Tower Shopping Center a few blocks down the street.
“I had quite a long drought there from Kmart going bankrupt,” said Joe Riddle, the Fayetteville developer who owns the center at the corner of New Bern and New Hope Road. “I hope that having Hamrick’s there and having Carlie C’s will allow me to lease up some more space.”
With the two anchor spaces filled, Red Pepper Asian Bistro has signed a lease next to Jersey Mike’s Subs. The Chinese and Thai restaurant will offer take-out and a dining room. A few doors down, 99-Cent-And-Up General Store opened this month, replacing a departed Dollar Tree.
Several other businesses are also working with Riddle, he said. His next goal is to fill the second portion of the sprawling Kmart space, a 55,000-square-foot storefront that will be next to Hamrick’s. Overall, about half the center’s square footage is now leased, with 10 small storefronts still vacant.
“My income there is much lower, and my center is not worth nearly as much as when I had Kmart and Kroger there,” Riddle said.
The string of strip malls along New Bern Avenue in East Raleigh has struggled since the opening of Interstate 540 drew retailers like Target further east to Knightdale. Riddle’s troubles are thanks in part to his center’s lack of visibility from New Bern Avenue; he recently got permission for signage along New Hope Road that should help.
When Wilders Grove was built in 1993, Raleigh officials required Riddle to preserve old oak trees along New Bern and plant more trees. He wasn’t allowed to install large signs advertising his tenants, he has said.
“It’s tough when your buildings are set that far back on New Bern Avenue,” he said. “We’re hoping that Hamrick’s will bring a good crowd.”