From new tenant mixes to new store concepts, NH retailers getting creativeBy MICHAEL COUSINEAU
New Hampshire Union Leader
April 21. 2018 5:33PM
Speedy go-karts are replacing jockeying grocery carts in Seabrook.
Macy's is creating a store within a store in Manchester.
And developers are working to woo retail stores to sit alongside hotels or residences in places such as Salem and Bedford.
Welcome to the World of Retail 2018.
"Retail has to get creative," said Nancy Kyle, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Retail Association, which represents retailers big and small. "Anything to get people in the door."
Think Chunky's Cinema and Pub and Cowabunga's, an indoor children's play area, at the former Lowe's home improvement store on Huse Road in Manchester. A Tucker's restaurant also is coming to that site.
In Seabrook, NH1 Motorplex took over 49,000 square feet once occupied by a Shaw's supermarket - and attracts some of the same customers.
People point out "the fruit was over here and the bakery was over there," said Michelle Doucette, a manager at Motorplex.
She works in the same Seacoast Shopping Center where Cardi's Furniture & Mattresses and Ocean State Job Lot filled space vacated by Walmart, which relocated elsewhere in Seabrook.
The recent opening of Cardi's has "definitely helped" draw people into the indoor go-kart business, Doucette said.
Come next Sunday, the Bon-Ton Store at the Steeplegate Mall in Concord will close as the chain liquidates its stores, according to two employees.
And Macy's, with full-size department stores in enclosed malls around the country, is putting the state's first Macy's Backstage store within its current store at the Mall of New Hampshire in Manchester.
Backstage, which offers discounts up to 80 percent, will hold its grand opening June 2 and occupy 13,700 square feet, or less than 10 percent of the overall store footprint.
"Stores with a Backstage within existing locations have seen a lift in performance of almost seven percentage points," according to Michelle Israel, Macy's senior vice president of off-price.
Bob Sheehan, whose Massachusetts firm, KeyPoint Partners, does an annual report on the retail health of southern New Hampshire, said the off-price retail segment has been a successful format as shoppers look for bargains for name brands.
The TJX Companies, parent of TJ Maxx and Marshalls among others, has "been one of the best performing retailers in the country," Sheehan said. "Since the recession kicked in back in '08, they pretty much rode through the recession unharmed."
Sheehan said the off-price stores are "Amazon-proof" because it would be difficult for the internet retailer to acquire enough inventory of discounted merchandise.
Israel wouldn't say whether Backstage was designed to counter Marshalls and TJ Maxx.
"Backstage is for the Macy's customer who likes the thrill of the hunt and appreciates amazing deals," she said. "It is a different experience than a regular full-line Macy's, but one that our customers have been asking for and enjoy shopping."
Macy's plans to open 100 Backstages this year.
Sheehan's latest report said southern New Hampshire for the year ending July 2017 "finished the year with positive net absorption of 352,400" square feet of vacant space, producing the lowest vacancy rate since 2008.
He said it was too early to say what this year's report will yield, but he named some of the retailers that will be giving up space around the country, including Toys 'R' Us, which is liquidating, as well as some redundant locations with the marriage of Rite Aid and Walgreens.
Some vacated retail locations take years to fill.
Guitar Center opened up on Manchester's South Willow Street in a former Sports Authority, which left in 2016 when the sporting goods retailer was liquidated.
In Salem, developer Joe Faro is working on securing stores, a cinema and other tenants for his Tuscan Village project on the site of the old Rockingham Park racetrack.
Faro this month mentioned L.L. Bean and Boston Interiors as possible tenants to go along with a planned medical office complex, hotel and residences spread over Tuscan Village's 120 acres.
Woodmont Commons in Londonderry is planning for residences, shops and restaurants off Route 102 while a Bedford development, called Market and Main, on South River Road has plans calling for a cinema, hotel, medical offices, restaurants and retail space.
Kyle thinks similar projects are in the offing.
"Almost definitely you're going to see these whole communities sprouting up," she said. "These little self-contained worlds."
New Hampshire retailers - especially those right on the Massachusetts border - enjoy one other advantage: "Compared to all of the other states, retail in New Hampshire is doing extremely well because of our lack of a sales tax," Kyle said.