As online sales continue to rise, more storefronts sitting vacant

SOUTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. (WPRI) – The windows are covered and the signs have been removed. What was once a Kmart is now empty square footage in a South Attleboro plaza.

A couple doors down, a Bob’s Stores location is facing the same fate following a bankruptcy filing by its parent company, Eastern Outfitters. According to court documents, the final store closure must be completed by June 21.

“Retail in New England has always been a challenge,” explained Neil Amper, vice president of Capstone Properties. “Big box stores come and go over the years.”

Amper said many retailers like Macy’s and J.C. Penney have struggled because consumers are shopping online. In fact, online sales are expected to jump 8 to 12 percent in 2017, according to the National Retail Federation.

“They might go to the store to comparison shop or to touch it, but then they go back and order it online,” Amper explained. “Consequently, those stores have suffered.”

Amper is not ruling out the comeback of traditional brick-and-mortar stores, but he says it may take time to fill the empty spaces.

“There’s been a tremendous amount of overbuilding over the years,” Amper said. “Some of these stores may be broken down into two or three different sizes to accommodate smaller users.”

While some local plazas are challenged with vacancies, others a experiencing growth.

“The lifestyle centers have been doing very well,” said Amper. “If you look at Garden City and Chapel View [in Cranston] where they have a mixture of apartments, retail, and office, they have maintained their vibrancy. That’s a traditional retailer that has adjusted to the marketplace by saying we want to have more people living around us, and those people are going to support our retail.”