For Central Pennsylvania’s retail real estate market, things are off to a, well, interesting start. The market has seen its fair share of ups and downs in recent quarters, and 2018 is no exception. On one hand, major retailers continue to shutter brick and mortar locations across the Susquehanna Valley. At the same time, other retailers are making the move into new locations. It can be hard to grasp what’s really going on in the market. Does the good outweigh the bad? What will the next quarter bring? The next year? For the answers, we turn to an expert.
Senior Market Analyst with CoStar Group, Chris LeBarton covers commercial real estate data in markets stretching from Western Maryland, including the Baltimore metro area, up through Central Pennsylvania for CoStar’s Market Analytics platform. His insight and expertise are helpful for understanding not only where the market currently stands, but how it’s likely to move in the future.
Chris joins Mike Kushner of Omni Realty Group for a Q&A series where we specifically look at the current state of Central Pennsylvania’s retail real estate market – as well as trends and challenges that stand to reshape things in 2018 and beyond. Here’s how Chris answers our most pressing questions.
Omni: With a net absorption of almost 95,000 SF, the Harrisburg East Retail submarket had a great bounce back quarter in Q1 2018 after four consecutive featuring net move outs. Can you elaborate on the various factors contributing to this?
Chris LeBarton: Retail leasing on the east side of Harrisburg has been fairly whippy this cycle, and certainly since 2015. So, putting too much stock into it is unwise. Minus Hobby Lobby’s move into almost 70,000 SF at Colonial Commons, this looks like less of a win. With that said, there are some strong pockets of buying power (median household income x households) in this submarket, including parts surrounding Colonial Park. In fact, Dauphin County has been one of the faster-growing counties in Pennsylvania since 2010.
Omni: What were the largest lease deals that took place in Central PA’s (Harrisburg East and Harrisburg West) retail real estate market in Q1 2018?
Chris LeBarton: Hobby Lobby’s move-in was the standout for sure, but there were a couple other sizable deals in the region. There was 15,000 SF leased in Carlisle on Newville Road and Ideal Auto Body absorbed 11,000 SF in Hanover. Also, Generations of Furniture signed a three-year deal on roughly 8,100 SF in Lancaster.
Omni: Amidst recent, massive retail closings, how would you say Central PA has responded/rebounded? What factors contribute to your assessment?
Chris LeBarton: Few areas are immune to the wave of big-box retail closings; stores like Kmart, Sears, Boscov’s, Macy’s and Toys R Us were once ubiquitous across the country. But a review of the biggest names shows fairly limited exposure in Central PA. Simply based on population density, natural tourism corridors, and buying power, this region isn’t swimming in malls and power centers. A review of a dozen or so metro areas inside Central Pennsylvania shows that, overall, vacancies are largely where they were coming out of the crash and in some cases improved.
In addition, several retailers that did not have a presence in Central Pennsylvania have absorbed space vacated by some of the big box closings. Stein Mart, Home Goods, and Hobby Lobby moved into the former Kmart on the Carlisle Pike. In Lower Paxton Township, Hobby Lobby opened in the former Giant Foods location and Giant moved across the road to the space vacated by Gander Mountain. At the Capital City Mall, Field and Stream moved into the former Toys R Us location. Overall, Central PA should feel encouraged that the region was no by means hit the hardest, compared to others. In fact, some significant regrowth has occurred as a result of many of these retail closings.
Omni: In your opinion, what are some of the future trends you expect to see in the Central PA retail real estate market?
Chris LeBarton: Mixed-use projects offering at least live-play (work there, or nearby, is an added bonus) with smart ground floor retail are all the rage. If areas outside of the major urban centers want to grow their population, they need to think about approving these types of projects. Naturally occurring affordable housing is becoming a big draw for those who want a nice place to live, but don’t want the high price tag. Developers who are trying to overcome the challenges of rising land and labor costs are looking more and more at secondary and tertiary markets, and there’s no reason Harrisburg can’t accommodate small-to-midsized projects with local/authentic retailers.
Another trend on the rise is related to the last piece of the “last mile” industrial craze and e-commerce. Central Pennsylvania is booming with warehouse and distribution construction; as a result, the biggest population centers in the region may see retailers testing new concepts here. Amazon Key, a home delivery service, opened in close to 40 cities last fall, and Walmart is doing all it can to keep up with the biggest player in the space. It would be reasonable to think that such trends could make their way to the Central PA retail real estate market as well.
While technology and the shift in the way consumers prefer to shop and purchase goods has had a significant impact retail real estate, we can expect the market to react and adapt – just like any industry must to stay afloat. The key to survival is for retailers to stay in front of emerging trends, keep an eye on competitors, and be willing to evolve.
How do you feel Central PA is responding to the changes and challenges taking place in the local retail real estate market? Are you more hopeful or more concerned? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below!