Retail experts: Former Albertsons may be vacant for a while

Vancouver sites may feel lingering effects of recession

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

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A pair of former Albertsons stores that have become Vancouver's latest commercial real estate vacancies are expected to stay empty for a long time.

The empty storefronts are indicative of a lingering recession for the retail sector and stiff competition for local grocery dollars.

The stores, one at 5000 E. Fourth Plain Blvd. and the other at 8300 N.E. 137th Ave., were shuttered for good on Sunday, according to company officials. Albertsons is now down to just two Clark County locations: Battle Ground and Salmon Creek.

The Boise-based company closed the stores just as a new wave of Wal-Marts — two grocery-only Neighborhood Markets and a Battle Ground Supercenter — are entering Clark County.

At least one retail expert said the new Wal-Marts might have pushed Albertsons to close stores that were already losing money, although store closures are decided at the corporate level.

"They've simply made these decisions based on the volume of sales," said Pam Lindloff, an associate vice president and broker for NAI Norris Beggs and Simpson in Vancouver.

Lindloff expects the two former Albertsons storefronts will stay vacant for a long while, due to a lack of possible replacement tenants. The grocery chain also will be obligated to make payments until its leases expire. In some cases, retailers will continue to hold the lease on a closed store and refuse to sublet as a tactic to keep grocery competitors out of a market where they continue to operate other stores.

"As long as Albertsons continues to pay the rent, they have a right to determine whether or not they'll sublease the space," Lindloff said.

In Hazel Dell, a former Albertsons store stood vacant for more than six years. After the Albertsons lease expired, a Grocery Outlet store opened there last year.

Lindloff acknowledged that secondary shops could struggle for business without the Albertsons anchors in the two shopping centers affected by closures — the Vancouver Market Center at Fourth Plain and Stapleton Road and the Padden Parkway Marketplace off 137th.

In addition to closing two Vancouver stores, Albertsons has recently closed five other stores in Washington and Oregon due to poor performance, said Dennis McCoy, communications and public affairs manager for Albertsons' Pacific Northwest territory.

He said the company was unable to transfer a substantial number of the Vancouver workers to other jobs within the Albertsons chain. Vancouver's Fourth Plain Boulevard Albertsons employed a staff of 77, and 55 people held jobs at the store on Northeast 137th.