Clark County retailers see reasons for optimism

Grocery offerings expand; sales up compared with ’10

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

Published:

 

Clark County retail sales

April through June

2011: $479 million

2010: $462 million

2009: $456 million

2008: $500 million

2007: $530 million

Portrait

For more information on life in Clark County, visit www.columbian.com/portrait.

Clark County residents love to shop around, a favorite pastime reflected by the community’s diverse mix of commercial districts and stores.

Homegrown retailers continue to prosper while national stores are still attracted to the area, a good sign that economic recovery might not be that far off, despite the downturn that has curtailed commercial construction in recent years, experts say.

“We have to see improvement in the market that we have before there is new construction,” said Pamela Lindloff, a retail expert and vice president at the Vancouver office of NAI Norris Beggs & Simpson. Nevertheless, Lindloff said Clark County retailers are seeing some hopeful signs.

Clark County store-only sales improved slightly in the second quarter of 2011, topping $479 million in the three months ending in June, according to the most recent figures supplied by the Washington State Department of Revenue. Sales were up 3.7 percent from the same period in 2010, although down 9.6 percent from the same period in 2007, at the height of the local housing and spending boom.

Area shoppers continue to support one-of-a-kind local retailers, such as the 1930s-style Ridgefield Hardware store that anchors the city’s small downtown core and east Vancouver’s Kazoodles toy store and Beacock’s Music.

Meanwhile, newcomer grocery stores New Seasons Market and Chuck’s Produce expanded organic-food shopping in Vancouver, setting up shop in vacant storefronts to attract affluent suburbanites from the county’s east side.

New Seasons’ president and chief executive officer Lisa Sedlar said a Clark County location was at the top of the list for her Portland-based company.

“We’ve had more requests for a new store in Vancouver than in any other location,” Sedlar said in March. Sedlar also has said New Seasons wants to open a second location.

In July, Bart Colson, owner of organic grocer Chuck’s Produce & Street Market, started moving forward with plans to build a second Clark County store in Hazel Dell. Colson’s company has submitted preliminary development plans to the county to develop a 4-acre site on the northeast corner of Highway 99 and 117th Street.

Signs of recovery

Some local retail experts interpret the grocery store expansions as a sign of market recovery, although the county has seen very little new retail construction in recent years.

However, some retail venues have recently undergone remodeling work. The largest example is a newly completed project to boost the allure of Westfield Vancouver mall, a team effort between Australia-based Westfield Group and Vancouver-based Cinetopia.

The project paired a multimillion-dollar interior face-lift of the mall with Cinetopia’s $18 million, two-story movie theater that transformed the mall’s vacant Mervyn’s department store. The venue is set to open this year with 14 downstairs theaters and nine living room venues upstairs. The complex will have an 80-foot screen (by comparison, the commercial IMAX is a 52-foot screen) and a brewpub-style restaurant.

Both venues — the mall and the theater — could feed from each others’ business by sharing the joint location at the county’s largest shopping center, west of Interstate 205 at state Highway 500.

“People can see a movie and do their shopping at the same time,” said Deborah Ewing, a broker and vice president with Eric Fuller & Associates commercial real estate firm.