Retail, simply put, is the sale of goods and services to the end user. It can be as large as a chain department store that sells a wide variety of items, or as small as a one-person operation with a limited set of products.
While most economic development news is centered on commercial and industrial development, retail plays a vital role in the Tri-State’s economy. In Vanderburgh County alone, 12,301 people are employed in retail (according to statsamerica.org) – making the sector the second largest employer in the county. (Health care leads Vanderburgh County, with manufacturing third, after retail.) In Indiana, there are 312,508 people working in retail.
Beyond those numbers, retail is a vital part of a community. Without it, areas of a city can suffer, which is why Evansville is working hard to bring more retail to Downtown. In this feature story, we take a look at the current state of retail in Evansville, profile some of those who have made it a career, and look at what the future might hold.
Location, Location, Location
Evansville’s retail assets evolve By Nathan Blackford
Until the Baby Boom era, Evansville’s main retail district was Downtown. Stores like Schear’s, Salms, Sears, and the Economy Store drew in shoppers from across the city. But starting in the early 1960s with the opening of Washington Square Mall, retail stores began to migrate outward from the city core.
While retail in areas like Green River Road to the east and Pearl Drive on the city’s West Side has boomed, Downtown retail has diminished. Now, officials are hoping to bring more retail back to the area. Christy Gillenwater, president and CEO of the Southwest Indiana Chamber of Commerce, says retail business plays a key role in quality of life for Tri-State residents.
Evansville officials have put a great deal of effort into reviving the city’s Downtown, with the Ford Center and planned construction of a new convention hotel and Indiana University Medical School Evansville. But Gillenwater says the area won’t ever be vibrant without new retail locations. She’d especially like to see local, unique shops.
“We have seen a great deal of retail expansion on the East Side, and I think we’re beginning to see expansion on the North Side,” says Gillenwater. “I think we’ll have opportunities in the five cultural districts, like Franklin Street and Downtown. We have great assets Downtown, but let’s keep building and see Downtown as an opportunity for retail.”
Sean Ferguson, Eastland Mall’s marketing manager, agrees. He says a vibrant town will draw more people to Evansville, thereby helping all retailers.
“We feel strongly that Downtown needs to be more vibrant and more successful,” says Ferguson. “Everybody will benefit from that eventually. The core needs to be strengthened for the East Side to be stronger, for the West Side to be stronger. We feel really confident that the medical school location (Downtown) was the best place for the city. The effect on retail will be huge.”
While local officials continue to push for the revival of retail Downtown, developers are simultaneously planning for growth elsewhere. Areas like University Parkway to the west and the planned Promenade development to the east could be the next big retail areas for the Evansville area.
“Location is a big issue for retailers,” says Gillenwater. “They have to think about what the anchor retailer or anchor asset in the area will be. Or are they looking to be an anchor? And what is the market for that kind of business.”
Retail has boomed on the West Side in places like the Creekside Stores and Pearl Drive. Similarly, it has expanded to the east around the Evansville Pavilion, Lakeside Commons to the north, and has popped up in strip malls along Burkhardt Road and recent developments have brought more stores to N. Green River Road, all the way to Lynch Road.
To the west, the University Parkway corridor has attracted attention but no development so far, while to the east the Promenade will get its first retail store later this year.
The Promenade is a project of Hirsch-Martin Development, LLC. Managing member Steve Martin, also the CEO of the Martin Group of Companies, says it has taken years to get the Promenade ready for tenants.
Martin points out that the nearby Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores are among the top selling stores in the country. That, he says, means development to the north is inevitable.
“We had a market study done, and it told us that this is the spot,” says Martin. “It is a natural evolution. The reason that it’s evolving is Interstate 164. It is easy access. Retailers are always interested in being in the right spot. And there is no doubt in our minds that this is the right spot.”
A new Academy Sports and Outdoor store is currently under construction at the Promenade’s southwest corner. A second retail site, just to the north, could start construction later this year.
“We are in the planning stages right now for an 80,000- to 100,000-square-foot shopping center north of Academy,” says Martin. “And then we’ll start later this summer on The Havens (apartments).”
The Promenade is designed to be unlike other retail locations in the Tri-State. Martin says it will also include housing, offices, and an entertainment district centered around a man-made lake. It is designed to be easy to walk through and will have stops for public transportation.
“We think it will be very, very successful,” says Martin. “There is no place like this in Evansville. It is just the idea of being able to walk down the street and window shop a little bit. And there are a lot of things that can be done around that lakefront.”
As the push to the east and west continues, Martin acknowledges that some of the Promenade’s tenants could simply be businesses that abandon other locations in Evansville to move someplace new.
“We’d like a good mix of national brands and local shops that want to be a part of it,” says Martin. “Every retailer has things they are looking for. What we’ve identified is a lot of brands that are not here. We are trying to bring in new things to Evansville. But there will be some moving around. There always is. Retailers go through cycles.”
Ferguson agrees, noting that stores move in and out of Eastland Mall all the time. Ferguson says it’s hard to know which businesses will be successful in the Evansville market. Eastland Mall, therefore, works not only to keep a wide variety of stores as well as bring in retailers that have never had a store in the Tri-State in the past.
Eastland Mall, which opened in 1981, annually brings in 10 million visitors. The mall regularly brings in customers from 25 counties. That, says Ferguson, helps other retailers all over Evansville.
While most economic development groups focus on industrial and commercial businesses, local officials acknowledge that retail plays a major role in the local economy.
Ferguson says the Evansville retail market tends to be fairly middle-of the-road, without a lot of spikes or drops that other cities see. He says Eastland Mall weathered the recent recession fairly well.
“We did not have near the number of issues that others did,” he says. “We have the typical: stores leaving, stores coming in. You’ll see spaces open up, but that’s an opportunity to get new tenants in. And we’re always 95 to 100 percent full.”
Eastland Mall officials have, in recent months, been very visible in their support of community projects like the medical school, new baseball/softball complex, and more. The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure returns to Eastland Mall in September, as well.
“Everybody benefits from stuff like that,” says Ferguson. “We’d be silly not to be supportive of key economic development things like that. We feel like we’ll benefit from that over time.”
Gillenwater says retailers have different needs, depending on the size of the store, items offered, whether they are part of national chains, and more. The chamber more often deals with local owners.
“National brands have a lot of marketing dollars lined out,” says Gillenwater. “Whereas with local independents, they rely on the community to get the word out. That can be marketing and advertising, or partnership opportunities. We have national brands who are members (of the chamber), but our penetration is higher with the independents.”
The future of retail, both in Evansville and nationally, isn’t completely clear. But Martin points out it will almost certainly have an increased online presence.
“Retail is changing. The brick and mortar retailer has to change,” says Martin. “The Internet now makes up about 10 percent of retail activity. Technology is changing fast. So who knows where retail will be five years from now.”
Back to the Future
Indiana’s oldest indoor mall is about to get a big renovation By Nathan Blackford
When it opened in 1963 on S. Green River Road, Washington Square Mall was the first enclosed shopping mall in the state of Indiana. Over the years, it has faced increased competition, not only from the newer Eastland Mall, but also from other retail locations.
Now, as it approaches its 51st birthday, Washington Square is about to get a major overhaul. The former Elder-Beerman store will be razed, to be replaced by a Schnucks Supermarket. The rest of the remaining structure will be remodeled, with a new exterior, parking lot, signage, and more.
Real estate developer Gene Hahn, of Hahn Realty Corp., has owned Washington Square since 2002. Hahn, who has developed properties all over Evansville, says the mall remodeling has been in the works for a long time.
“We’d have liked to have done it sooner, but you can only run so fast,” says Hahn. “But we are really excited about seeing this happen now. It will help us take advantage of the population density that we have in this area. Nothing happens fast in real estate.”
Hahn says despite being more than a half-century old, Washington Square Mall is in relatively good condition.
“Being an older mall, you’ll have a few things break here and there,” he says. “But we have good maintenance people to keep that as a minimum. And if you walk in, you’ll find it is the cleanest mall you’ve ever been in.”
Washington Square Mall originally had an A&P Supermarket. But the new Schnucks store will be the first grocery outlet in the mall for many years.
“Grocery anchors are good anchors,” says Hahn. “They bring in a lot of traffic. Everybody is really excited about it, because Schnucks is the premier grocer in this market.”
Schnucks spokesperson Paul Simon says the 70,000-square-foot Washington Square location, which will replace a smaller Schnucks store on Washington Avenue, which opened in 1977. Simon says Schnucks has a lot of experience with anchor stores, as it will be at Washington Square.
“It gives us an opportunity to offer customers a larger, newer store with more amenities,” says Simon. “Many of our stores are located with other shops. That helps us and the other businesses. It allows customers to literally have one-stop shopping.”
Schnucks also is in the process of remodeling other Evansville locations, and is considering another store in the city. The groundbreaking date for the Washington Square location has not been set.
The last major remodeling effort at Washington Square was completed in 1987. The current project should start sometime around the end of June, and will completely change the mall’s appearance from Green River Road.
Though the mall hasn’t had a true second anchor since Elder-Beerman closed in 2000. Sears, the other anchor, is an original tenant, located at the mall’s north end. The plans include keeping the food court and most of the current stores. Hahn says once Schnucks opens, there will be little vacant space remaining.
Hahn says retail locations like Washington Square Mall are vital to the Tri-State.
“Retail in Evansville, I’m sure it is the largest type of employer in town,” he says. “People downplay that sometimes. Whatever retail it is, that is a job offering for somebody. And it absolutely drives the economy.”
For more information about Washington Square Mall, visit washingtonsquaremallevv.com.
Pearl Drive has been growing for more than a decade By Bob Boxell
Seventy-three-year-old Gene Hahn has bought and sold commercial real estate since 1967, but there’s a special strip of land on Evansville’s West Side that brings out his signature grin every time he heads that way: Pearl Drive.
The half-mile stretch of three-lane road provides the spine for 99 acres of bustling business property, running parallel to the Lloyd Expressway from Red Bank Road on the east to Boehne Camp Road on the west. It was Hahn’s vision, and his alone, more than 15 years ago.
“The property was so high on one end that I could look down on the canopy of the convenience store across the street,” he remembers, “and so low in some places that I couldn’t see the Lloyd. But I kept looking at that property, and kept thinking, ‘There’s a real need for something here.’”
Hahn took his vision to Jim Farny at Bernardin, Lochmueller & Associates, who pronounced it manageable from an engineering standpoint. Hahn’s enthusiasm convinced local investor Dave Remmert to come on board, and Mike Elliott, then chairman of the board at National City Bank, put his bank behind the operation after carefully surveying the land and telling Hahn, “You’ve got a winner there.”
Hahn paid $1.8 million to buy the property, and put in another $7 million to shape the land and build the infrastructure. For four weeks in 1998, earthmovers worked 24 hours a day to shovel 100,000 cubic yards of soil from high ground to low ground. Hahn still had no contracts signed. He was relying on the adage of “Build it, and they will come,” even as concrete was being poured. They did come.
“The theater (AMC Evansville 16) was first, and then Home Depot,” Hahn recalls. “Then the restaurants and banks came. Once businesses saw the location, it went pretty easy.”
“Being a business on the West Side is special,” says Brian Siebers, in his fifth year as general manager of the O’Charley’s on Pearl Drive. “West Siders support their local businesses, and the other business people here on Pearl Drive are good about supporting each other. As a result, we’ve had four straight years of growth at a time when others have not.”
The name “Pearl Drive” was Hahn’s tip of the cap to former USI basketball coach Bruce Pearl (now the men’s basketball coach at Auburn University). Today, more than 40 businesses have a Pearl Drive address, spanning Holiday Inn Express high on the west end to O’Charley’s and Old National Bank on the east. It’s hard to find a time when cars aren’t turning from the Lloyd, Red Bank, or Boehne Camp, and heading for Gene Hahn’s hilly vision of West Side business growth.
“That property has gone from producing $1,500 annually in property taxes to $1.5 million, so it’s been a good deal for the county, and when you figure in the employment that’s been added, it’s been a nice addition,” says Hahn. “It’s still exciting for me to go out there. I’m kind of amazed myself every time I see all the traffic and all the businesses.”
For more information about Pearl Drive, call 812-477-6980 or visit hahnrealtycorp.com.
A Retail Redux
Lawndale sees new life under new management By Erin Miller
The Washington Lawndale Commons Shopping Center on S. Green River Road between Bellemeade and Washington is a first-generation shopping center. It was built in the late 1950s when the concept of a shopping mall still was relatively new, and was full of life until the early 2000s.
Then, store by store, the shopping center faded from the limelight. Crowds migrated north to the newer Eastland Mall and over toward newer shopping centers farther east, and Lawndale was left mostly empty for years.
“It kind of fell on hard times,” says Jeff Agan, who purchased the Lawndale property in November 2013. “Much of the center’s increase in vacancy was due to management, and some of it was out of their control.”
Agan’s construction team renovated interiors during the winter, removing tenant-specific finishes in the empty spaces, and started exterior renovations March 1. Already occupancy is moving toward 70 percent.
The façade of Lawndale has been embellished to be more appealing to customers and perspective tenants.
“We eliminated the Christmas-tree green that was the dominant theme on the property,” adds Agan. “I would estimate that half of my expenses to date have been putting the interior of the property back into the proper condition.”
Agan says he will be very careful about the kind of retail he brings to Lawndale. His goal is for future tenants to be representative of the demographics in the neighborhood, noting those demographics are “very good, and the immediate neighborhood consists of some of the best in the Evansville area.
“That’s our challenge, to take the possible tenant pool and fit that to match the demographics of the property,” says Agan. “It’s not as hard as it sounds but I’m protective of the image and I will turn tenants away if the image doesn’t match.”
Image isn’t the only thing drawing new tenants to the space. When Agan purchased the center, it was institutionally owned by a pension fund. That meant in the past, tenants at Lawndale were scrutinized on national name recognition, credit worthiness and on the rental rate they received. That led the previous management company to be very protective of rates, which became too high for the property’s physical conditions especially after the recent recession. Under Agan, rates are now extremely competitive and so are the conditions of the property.
Jennifer’s Hallmark, a card and gift shop, has operated in the shopping center since 1976.
“I always said I was either going to be the last rat on the ship or the phoenix rising from the ashes,” says co-owner Penne Pirkle Gambrall, who purchased the shop in 1985 with her mother and sister. “Being situated in a residential area, Lawndale is the heart of this area. I would love to see it full again like it was in its heyday. I’m just very excited about all this new opportunity and life.”
Stein Mart, the Lawndale branch U.S. Post Office, and Dollar Tree all are longtime businesses located in Lawndale. Planet Fitness is the largest new tenant.
Warrens remain passionate about North Park through decades By Emily Patton
Working with North Park Shopping Center is the only job Henderson, Kentucky, native Gene Warren Jr. has ever known.
In 1971, Warren began working as the shopping center’s manager under the supervision of Guthrie May, who built the complex in 1957. When May sold the shopping center on N. First Avenue in 1983, the Warrens purchased it and have remained its owners ever since.
“I figure one day I’ll get it right,” Warren jokes.
After 43 years of experience working with North Park, the Warrens have seen the shopping center and retail in Evansville change, while also making it a family business. Warren’s wife Charlotte, their daughter, Jaycee, and their son, Otha, all work for North Park Corp.
North Park Shopping Center is at 95 percent occupancy and home to stores, services, and restaurants such as Ryan’s Ace Hardware and Rental, Seek and Find Consignment, Anthony’s Heavenly Cheesecake, Starbucks, Ruler Foods, Deaconess Urgent Care North, and more.
“We have gone from where we had every dress store that was available, we had on the North Side, but that has since changed,” says Charlotte. “I don’t think the economy has changed that, but the way people shop.
“One of things that has helped us is after the exit of soft goods retailers, such as dresses, shoes, makeup, we now have the service goods. We have hardware, taxes, a grocery, the drugstore — you can go up and down.”
The Starbucks at North Park remains a very popular destination and has been since coming to the shopping center in 2004. It was the first Starbucks to be built in Southern Indiana. North Park is also home to the highest volume CVS Pharmacy in the Midwest from Minnesota to Tennessee, and one out of the top five Fifth Third Banks by volume in Indiana.
There are many reasons for North Park’s success and one of those is the growth of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, also on N. First Avenue.
“It has grown to be a major Evansville university and has done great things for the North Side,” says Gene.
While the population of Center Township has been an area of growth residentially in Vanderburgh County, there is very little room for growth commercially, says Gene.
“Compared to other retail areas in town we don’t have lots of other ground around us to expand so we don’t have unlimited competition which has happened on the East Side and essentially the same thing is true for the West Side,” says Gene. “Businesses that are already here and in place are in a good position.”
The Warrens have invested in other properties besides North Park, including CVS Pharmacies and multiple other stores such as Starbucks, Advanced Auto Parts, and O’Reilly Auto Parts in Southwestern Indiana, Western Kentucky, and Southern Illinois.
“We love North Park,” says Charlotte. “We call it the mother lode and we do other things besides the shopping center. We’ve had to change and adapt. As we sit here and look at it, it is so alive. Now, there have been years where there have been challenges. We have had difficult years. We weathered it because we so believed in the North Side of town. Our customers have always been loyal and are like family.”
For more information on North Park Shopping Center, call 812-428-0005 or visit its Facebook page.
The Next Wave
University Parkway appears primed for retail development By Nathan Blackford
Not so long ago, perhaps five or six decades, the retail center of Evansville was located in the heart of Downtown. But as suburban sprawl has increased, retail centers have moved east, west, and north.
Today, Green River Road, Burkhardt Road, and Pearl Drive are bustling with retail activity. And as that outward push continues, the next logical area to be developed is along University Parkway.
Or, at least, that’s what the West Side Improvement Association is planning for. WIA Land Use and Planning Chairman Michael Lockard has spent the last 30 years waiting to see what develops.
“We think it is interesting to see what the potential is out there,” says Lockard. “Our concern is: There is no plan for it. That is the biggest thing. It has the potential to be a regional draw.”
In May 2013, developer Gene Pfeiffer was able to get approval from the Vanderburgh County Commissioners to rezone a 200-acre parcel along University Parkway for residential and commercial development. Lockard says unless a comprehensive plan is established, new development could face big obstacles.
“You don’t want a multi-million dollar mall next to a hog farm,” says Lockard. “Right now, that could happen. Those 200 acres, a farmer next door could literally put in a hog farm and there would not be a thing Vanderburgh County could do about it. We spent millions of dollars on that road, let’s maximize it.”
What Lockard and the WIA want is an overlay zone, which would set up special requirements that would mandate new developments to meet specific guidelines. That, Lockard says, would protect local residents and also improve aesthetics at the retail locations.
Another major obstacle to retail development along University Parkway is its intersection with the Lloyd Expressway. For now, southbound traffic on the parkway has to yield to traffic coming off the expressway, headed into the University of Southern Indiana. Lockard proposes a “flyover” interchange, which would eliminate the problem by taking the southbound traffic up and over the current interchange.
Lockard says he’s spoken with Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) officials who have told him University Parkway could one day be extended north to Interstate 64. That, he says, would greatly increase traffic on the parkway and bring in more shoppers.
With a railroad already in place, Lockard says University Parkway could be suited for a light industrial company. He also thinks a hospital or other health care locations would fit nicely. He says either of those would, in turn, bring more retail to the area.
Lockard says there have also been discussions about (INDOT) eventually taking control of University Parkway, which for now is owned by Vanderburgh County. And he says INDOT has been clear that it does not want stoplights at the parkway’s intersections.
Lockard says when University Parkway does get its first retail stores, he’d like to see new stores rather than ones relocating from somewhere else in Evansville. The WIA, as it did with Majestic Place, will also work to make sure retail stores along the parkway are pleasing to the eye.
“It’s a four-lane road, something is going to go out there,” says Lockard. “But we want to be sure that whatever goes out there fits in with the neighborhood.”
For more information on the West Side Improvement Association, visit westsideimprovement.org.