Shoppers haven't needed to look far during the recession to see its impact around Lexington — that is, if they're even out shopping.
Circuit City's bankruptcy left a hole in Hamburg and along Nicholasville Road.
So, too, did the bankruptcy and closing of Linens 'n Things.
Goody's. Dawahares. S&K Menswear. The list goes on.
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But as signs mount that the economic hardships might be abating, so, too, have come the signs that retail might be recovering.
Property developers at Hamburg expect to announce in the coming days that a national retailer will take about half of the Circuit City space.
And Fayette Mall has quickly filled its vacant spots. Farther down Nicholasville Road, Brannon Crossing has signed more than a dozen small tenants in the last three months. The center discounted some rents, a method used by many shopping center owners during the recession.
Meanwhile, others have sought out different sorts of tenants, relying less on strictly retail.
"Activity has increased over the course of the year," said Al Isaac, president of NAI Isaac, a commercial real estate service. "It's not anywhere we would want it to be, but we see more activity every month."
Among the hardest hit shopping centers was Hamburg, which saw some national retailers — Circuit City, Linens 'n Things and Sportsman's Warehouse — vacated large spaces.
"That's not anything we would have ever expected," said Nancy Sebring of the Hamburg development office that handles the portion containing Sportsman's Warehouse and Circuit City.
To help fill the space vacated by Circuit City, the property managers opted to split the 33,000 square feet of space. A national retailer has signed a letter of intent on the 15,000 square feet section, but all details aren't yet finalized, Sebring said.
Sebring said it's possible the former Sportsman's Warehouse will also be divided. There is a plan to build space for more small tenants in a plaza to the left of the former outdoors store, so "there's room to grow if someone needed something special," she said.
On the other side of Hamburg, the Linens 'n Things space has attracted three national chains, but "it's still too preliminary to identify any of the prospects simply because we don't have a signed lease," said Dave Miniutti, senior vice president for retail leasing at Thomas Enterprises, which manages that portion.
Farther down Interstate 75, Richmond Centre has begun to fill some of its vacancies with restaurants like Panera Bread and Buffalo Wild Wings.
"People have begun to realize the potential of the Richmond market, and now it's starting to snowball," said Charles Thrift, senior leasing associate.
The development still has a hole at its former Dawahares, as well as 15,000 square feet for what could be between four and eight smaller shops. And Home Depot, which was expected to be an anchor, has not submitted a plan to Crosland for the property it owns.
Like other major retailers, Home Depot has scaled back on expansions during the recession.
Major chains are "probably going to look for more of a real bottom" to the economy before again expanding, said Tom Lewis, a lecturer in the management department at the University of Kentucky's Gatton College of Business & Economics.
The best performer of Lexington's retail undoubtedly has been Fayette Mall, which has no vacancies.
"Fayette Mall was lucky in that their anchor tenants and quite a few of the specialty stores weren't the ones that have had to file bankruptcy yet," Lewis said.
Among those that did, though, was S&K Menswear. After it closed all its stores, the mall quickly replaced it with Urban Nation.
"There's a whole lot to be said in our industry for being 100 percent occupied even at a time like this," said general manager Myron Worley.
And while some may be cutting rent to keep plazas occupied, "when you're at a shopping center that's fully leased and you have lots of interest from others ... that's not something that comes up very often," Worley said. He declined to speak in more detail.
Farther down Nicholasville Road, discounted rents have been part of the strategy to keep business humming at Brannon Crossing.
Jim Hughes, chief executive of Bellerive Development Co., said he's offered some discounted rents but attributed most of Brannon's recent signings to a renewed sense of faith in the economy.
Fifteen stores have signed or opened in the last three months there, including florist Bella Blooms.
Owner Susan Otero, who also owns the Rooster & Rose home accessories store at the center, said now was the right time to expand. She said she did benefit from the reduced rent, but declined to detail it further.
"When things are going great in the economy, the opportunities don't come as easily because everything's a sure bet," Otero said. "Although it's a struggle for business in general, now is when there's a wonderful time to take advantage of an opportunity in front of you."
Lewis said rent prices are down anywhere from 3 to 5 percent nationally.
Rather than discounting rent, Lexington Green looked at non-traditional tenants to fill its vacancies.
It has filled the former CompUSA space with Central Baptist HealthwoRx Fitness & Wellness Center, which opens in mid-December.
"It just seemed like a good marriage for us," said Doris Benson, president of Langley Properties and a partner in Lexington Green. "We also think it will work well with some of the other tenants here.
"They've already talked about partnering with Whole Foods on some different diet issues."
Thomas Enterprises at Hamburg also looked to a different type of retailer to fill the former Dawahares space. The store will soon be home to golf simulator Thoroughbred Links.
"Bringing in entertainment-type tenants is only going to help the retail all around it," he said.
As the economy continues to strengthen, centers expect to continue filling holes, even if it's with non-traditional retailers.
But many say they're happy that it hasn't proven to be worse.
"I recall seeing a year or so ago about how markets like Lexington were probably a little bit better positioned to weather the economic conditions ... than other markets," said Worley of Fayette Mall. "I think that's proven to be the case."