Bottom Line: Upcoming Target, Sierra openings offer signs of optimism for West Lebanon retail

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 9/11/2021 10:07:57 PM
Modified: 9/11/2021 10:14:29 PM

The big-box corridor along Route 12A in West Lebanon has been beaten down for a long time.

Consumer spending fell off a cliff during the Great Recession of 2007-09. Then Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 flooded some of the shopping plazas, forcing many of the stores to close for months while the damage was repaired. A massive shift to online ordering through the next decade ignited a retail apocalypse for stores. And the COVID-19 pandemic made people — including employees — stay away from Route 12A.

Now traditional brick and mortar storefronts along 12A that depend upon customer traffic are hoping, if not exactly a return to the good ol’ days, for at least a pickup in business as the result of two national brand-name retailers moving into the neighborhood.

Construction crews are in the final stages of the $2 million project to convert the former Kmart store into an 87,000-square-foot Target and an 18,000-square-foot Sierra store, as revealed by the plaza’s property manager, Charter Realty & Development.

In a sure sign that Target and Sierra are getting ready to open, both have posted job openings at the West Lebanon stores on the job site Indeed.

But exactly what date either of the stores will open is not yet known. A spokesperson for Target said the West Lebanon store “is planned to open later this year.” A spokesperson for TJX, Sierra’s parent company, did not respond to an email of inquiry.

Still, consumers who look forward to popping into Target to grab a set of colorized stainless steel Cuisinart knives or a Spyder Monterosa Gore-Tex ski jacket at Sierra aren’t the only group eager to see the stores open. Other businesses in West Lebanon said they expect the increased traffic from the new retail outlets will bring customers through their doors as well.

“I think Target will just be bombarded when they open, and we’ll benefit from that,” said Eric Roberts, the owner of restaurant Lui Lui at the Powerhouse Mall and across Route 12A from the shopping plaza. “The more things there are here, the more reasons there are for people to get off at Exit 20. We’re going to see more people coming this way.”

And Tina Robinson, an optician at Pro Optical — the only independent, non-chain business in the plaza — said “we’re expecting a huge uptick in traffic” as a result of Target and Sierra opening.

She said the optician office and eyeglass store, which is the oldest business in the plaza, plans to set up a sandwich board on the sidewalk outside the store to advertise available walk-in appointments, eyeglass sales and a raffle to entice customers into the store.

Once referred to as Kmart Plaza, the shopping center is now being called by Charter “TJ Maxx Plaza” — the plaza hosts a TJ Maxx in addition to parent company TJX Cos. owning Sierra. (The chain was formerly known as Sierra Trading Post, but TJX rebranded it as simply Sierra in 2018.)

The plaza is owned by a Boston-based real estate development and investment firm, the Davis Cos., which purchased it in 2017, along with North Country Plaza in West Lebanon and the eastern half of Miracle Mile Plaza in Lebanon, from Dead River Co. for a total of $27.2 million.

One outstanding question is the status of the former Kleen Laundry store and the former Irving gas station, which are adjacent to each other and face Route 12A. The former laundromat and dry cleaner store is part of the plaza owned by Davis Cos., but the gas station parcel is owned by Irving Oil and has been vacant for a decade since the Interstate 89 overpass was rebuilt across Route 12A.

Candice MacLean, a spokesperson for Irving Oil, said via email: “We continue to evaluate long-term options for this property and do not have plans to share at this time.” Mark Bush, senior vice president of asset management at Davis Cos., said through a spokesperson via email that “the Davis Cos. is negotiating a lease which will bring a new tenant to the former Kleen Laundry building.”

Daniel Haselton, the optician who has owned Pro Optical for 41 years, remembers when there was a Grand Union supermarket in the spaces now occupied by the Xfinity and TJ Maxx stores and the plaza included a pizza restaurant and florist’s shop.

Today, with the exception of his business, all the tenants in the plaza are national chain stores.

But despite shopping malls closing and struggling around the country, things appear to be looking better since Kmart and the Payless shoe stores closed, both victims of corporate bankruptcies and changing consumer habits.

“We’ve got new pavement in the parking lot,” Haselton said standing in his eyeglass showroom last week and looking outside the storefront windows at the newly blacktopped surface. “And they are putting in these things,” he added, referring to workers on the sidewalk outside his door installing cinder block for pillars to support the sidewalk overhang.

“They’ve spent a lot of money out there,” Haselton reflected while looking at the building activity outside the window. “So somebody is optimistic about the future.”

Contact John Lippman at .

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