The two storefronts on either side of Pampered Foot Reflexology are empty.
One was the namesake tenant of Basha’s Ocotillo Plaza in Chandler, situated on the northwest corner of Alma School and Queen Creek roads; Basha’s left after the local grocer declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009, shuttering four stores in the city and 33 chain-wide. The other: Target, which moved out of the plaza last year.
Nestled in the Ocotillo region of south Chandler – long considered one of the city’s most attractive and located just minutes from where computer chip giant Intel is investing billions of dollars into its stake in the city – the loss of two of the plaza’s anchors have left business owners like Jimmy Nguyen with the task of keeping the once-prominent shopping center afloat.
“When we opened five years ago, the location was very good,” said Nguyen, owner of Pampered Foot Reflexology. “Now, business is down about 30 percent.”
The lack of two anchor stores doesn’t affect customer Wendy Wagner’s decision to patronize Nguyen’s business.
“I think it’s too bad the stores closed,” the Chandler resident said, “but it’s kind of nice to get a parking place so easily.”
Around the corner at Big 5 Sporting Goods, Manager J.T. Tower has heard rumors about new businesses moving into the spaces left behind by Basha’s and Target.
“I’m hopeful something happens,” said Tower. “There’s definitely less traffic with two stores gone.”
However, south of Big 5, across the nearly empty parking lot, one business had attracted at least a dozen cars one recent weekday at noon. Sidelines Grill even had a help-wanted sign posted on its door.
“We thought the stores leaving would hurt us, but we haven’t been affected at all,” said Karen Nadeau, general manager. She credited good food, excellent service and moderate prices for the restaurant’s survival. As for the rumors she had heard about new stores coming in, she said she can’t comment.
“But if the rumors are true, they will be heaven sent.”
The survivors in this plaza only need to look south a few blocks to gain optimism that new businesses do come along and revitalize areas. The Promenade at Fulton Ranch, a shopping center at the northeast corner of Alma School and Chandler Heights, lost AJ’s Fine Foods and Good Food Market in recent years, leaving it too without an anchor tenant. But a new fitness business has taken that space, according to Christine Mackay, the city’s economic development director.
“Fulton Ranch has been resuscitated,” said Mackay. “It’s rocking.”
Mackay and Chandler Mayor Jay Tibshraeny are doing their best to create the same results for Basha’s Ocotillo Plaza.
“We’re marketing it aggressively — it’s high priority,” Tibshraeny said. “It won’t be a grocer more than likely. The space could be slated for office use, back office use, athletic — something will happen.”
As the mayor hinted, that something will probably not be a Trader Joe’s specialty grocery store, despite oft-heard local speculation. Mackay says citizens have been asking her to secure a Trader Joe’s in Chandler for 13 years.
“From their lips to Trader Joe’s ears,” she said. “But we’ve taken them on four or five tours.”
She says the food retailer has a very specific model for population densities and between the Chandler Airpark and the Gila River Indian Community, the area does not provide enough residents.
Another challenge with the old Basha’s location is that it only offers about 53,000 square feet. Most grocers want 70,000 to 90,000 square feet. But it was a good size for the seasonal Halloween store last fall.
“Anything that drives traffic into an anchorless center can help the smaller stores,” said Mackay.
The former Target space, at 123,000 square feet, may be easier to sell or break into smaller parcels.
“Although the building could be demolished or split up, it would be costly,” said Brian Polachek of SRS Real Estate Partners. “We have showed it several times and had some interest. We’re marketing it to all prospective retailers.”
In the meantime, Tibshraeny asked 22 volunteers – commercial and residential developers, business owners, citizens and neighborhood leaders – to study the issue and make specific recommendations for vacant retail areas. They might come up with creative solutions or ask for flexibility in city codes, he said. He added that he expects the group to brief the city council on the report in the upcoming weeks.
“People just need to be patient,” said Tibshraeny. “The long-term prognosis is good. We are seeing an uptick in jobs with Intel, and that creates the need for more houses and more retail centers.”