Business Columns & Blogs

What’s ahead for retail in 2011

Retailers are welcoming 2011 with open arms and hope the best holiday shopping season since the start of the Great Recession will carry over to the new year. But there were plenty of other reasons locally to celebrate 2010, and there is a lot to look forward to in the new year across the Midlands.

Here’s a sampling:

Richland Mall finally returned to its old, familiar name after the debacle that was Midtown at Forest Acres. It also returned to some local owners who have a vision of making it into a shopping attraction for Columbia. The new owners have brought in the Midlands’ own shopping center guru, Alan Kahn, to make that happen. So now when Kahn attempts to woo retailers to the Columbia area, he has two sites to show them: his own Village at Sandhill in Northeast Richland and Richland Mall. So far, the new owners – Century Capital Group, headed up by Bill Walkup and Don Taylor, have been able to lure back a former tenant, Columbia Art and Custom Framing, a koozie manufacturer and a permanent farmers market on the roof-top parking deck. Kahn says he is in talks with an anchor whose presence would help fill in the empty spots that still plague the shopping center. Next year: Look for new developments as the economy begins to recover and retailers start thinking again about expansion.

Columbiana Centre weathered the fallout from its parent company’s bankruptcy without even flinching. General Growth Properties emerged from bankruptcy protection in November with a restructuring plan, even as the popular Harbison shopping center continued to grow. Women’s clothing store Arden B made a return to the market and urban fashion retailer DTLR made its first move into the market. Next year: Look for Forever 21, a value-priced women’s fashion retailer, to open in the spring as sort of a mini-anchor – taking up four spots and adding its own outside entrance.

Main Street will get a much-anticipated Mast General Store possibly as early as next spring, kicking off what city leaders hope will be a major renaissance for the downtown retail district. An arts district already is emerging in the area. Up on North Main, city leaders also are attracting businesses as North Main Plaza nears capacity. Houston’s Low Country Grill and CiCi’s Pizza are among the new businesses there. Next year: Look for more Main Street growth with Mast and the opening of Nickelodeon Theatre drawing more foot traffic.

The state’s tax-free holiday for back-to-school shopping generously has defined school supplies for years to include, among other things, wedding dresses and adult diapers. Now, some legislators are saying enough is enough. As South Carolina grapples with serious budget concerns, they vow to make sure tax-free items really are for the classroom. Retailers say changing the policy could hurt them if residents of neighboring states decide to take a pass on crossing state lines to shop. Next year: Look for savings on computers, pencils and jeans but don’t expect to be able to save on your tux.

Hardware stores in the Midlands had a rough year as the economy drove several to close their doors. But the plight of these small-business owners caused local business leaders to push a number of “shop local” campaigns. Next year: Some struggling retailers that barely made it through the worst of the economic downturn will close, but if the shop local campaigns are successful, more could turn the corner as the economy brightens.

Doughnuts! Consumers gobbled up hot dogs as the number of vendors multiplied across the Midlands this year. And they will have plenty of opportunities to seek out more comfort food in the new year. Both Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donuts have announced expansion plans that should bring about a dozen new stores to the Columbia area. Next year: Both chains are concentrating on the Clemson Road area and downtown. But keep your eyes open for new location announcements throughout the year.