Sportsman's Warehouse, a large retailer of all things outdoors at Lexington's Hamburg Place, will close at the end of the month, leaving another large hole in one of the city's main shopping districts.
The hole to be left by Sportsman's Warehouse is one of several retail vacancies regionally, although developers say they have seen a recent uptick in interest in those empty spots.
Sportsman's Warehouse, which opened just two years ago, is a victim of the company's bankruptcy reorganization. The chain filed for Chapter 11 in March, after it defaulted on loan covenants because tightened credit restricted its inventories, according to company documents.
The Lexington store — at Winchester Road and Sir Barton Way, on the north side of Hamburg — survived the first round of cuts, which involved closing 23 stores to reduce bank debt and selling 15 to another company.
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The store's manager, Ben Bodmer, said he received a call Thursday night that the store would be one of three more to close as part of a plan approved by a board of creditors for the chain to exit bankruptcy. The chain will keep about 25 stores open, primarily in the western United States.
"It was a surprise to me," he said. "I think it's a mistake because Lexington can support a store like this."
Liquidators are already at the store and have marked down some merchandise as much as 30 percent off.
The big-box space to be left empty by Sportsman's Warehouse joins the the former Hamburg homes of Circuit City, Linens 'N Things and Dawahares.
Given the economy, it will be difficult to fill the large spaces, said Bob Dahlstrom, a professor of marketing at the University of Kentucky.
"Small organizations are not going to come in and do this," he said, noting that some discount chains, including Big Lots, have already expanded in centers where existing shops went dark. "The rebirths have already seemed to occur. I don't know who else is that big that could take up that much space."
The location is not an issue, he said.
"All of the spots in Hamburg are great spots," Dahlstrom said, and Kentucky consumers tend to be more mobile. "Lots of people come to Lexington to shop."
Bodmer said his store's closing leaves a hole for outdoor-goods shoppers. He said the store, which employs about 60 people, was "rebounding and starting to grow again" after a period in which inventory had been reduced because of the chain's restricted credit.
"I know Lexington can support this store," he said. "It's just bad timing and a bad set of circumstances."
Nancy Sebring, who works for the property developer that manages the portion of Hamburg where Sportsman's Warehouse is, said there are no plans for that space. But, she said, the property developer has a letter of intent for a retailer to fill part of the Circuit City space. Her company split that property into two sections after Circuit City closed in March.
"We have people calling all the time looking for space," Sebring said. "It surprises us, too, that we do, but there are people who are still looking for space."
Besides Circuit City and now Sportsman's Warehouse, the company has a few small spaces in Hamburg available near The UPS Store and in a newer area that features the restaurants Smashing Tomato and Bajio Mexican Grill.
In the part of Hamburg that includes the former Linens 'N Things and Dawahares, there are no signed leases on empty spaces, but there has been interest in the spots, said Dave Miniutti, senior vice president for retail leasing at the developer Thomas Enterprises.
He said the company is eyeing some high-end restaurants "because there seems to be a lack of a lot of high-quality restaurants in that area."
The vacancies are an anomaly, he said, because Hamburg has always been 90 percent occupied or better.
"And the retailers have always performed well," he said, "even better than some of our high-end village centers in Atlanta."
Jim Hughes, chief executive of Bellerive Development Co., which manages the Brannon Crossing shopping center in Jessamine County, said he suspects that some of the vacant areas at Hamburg might be divided like Circuit City.
"It's hard to fill a ... vacancy like that," he said of the larger spaces. "There's just not a lot of people in that category right now" with those space requirements.
He's dividing an area right now in a plaza that he manages in Winchester where a Goody's store closed after the chain closed last winter.
"Hamburg will come back strong," he said. "If you take and add up the total square footage of all those that have closed or went dark, it's a very, very small percentage of the space in Hamburg."
At Brannon Crossing, Hughes said, he has seen a "big turnaround" since the beginning of April.
"For the first time, it's been a turnaround in the tenants' standpoint that they don't believe they'll be demolished in the economy," he said.
Furniture World Superstore recently opened in the space vacated by Goody's at Brannon Crossing, and a number of smaller retailers are in the process of completing lease agreements.
It's not so much an issue of finding tenants, he said, as finding ones that will pay the right price.
"The biggest problem a developer has today is retailers want to see how cheap they can get in," he said. "You can't sell below your cost."
Fayette Mall, Lexington's other major shopping area, also is doing well despite the economy, general manager Myron Worley said.
The mall's S&K Menswear location is closing because the chain is going out of business, but previous vacancies have been filled quickly, he said.
Besides the S&K location, there are two mall spaces without stores, but one has been leased. Software retailer 3D Games will replace the space that was once home to the children's store Club Libby Lu; 3D Games might open by the end of July.
And a lease is expected soon on the food-court space formerly occupied by Le Petit Bistro, Worley said.
"We continue to be fully occupied," he said, "and that's a pretty big thing in the shopping center industry in these economic times."