BLOOMINGTON — Bloomington-Normal’s commercial sector shows telltale signs of a rebound.
Many storefronts once vacant from the recession are filling up and the overall vacancy rate for the market has lessened from about 20 percent about a year ago to the current 15 percent, said Greg Yount, manager of Coldwell Banker Commercial Heart of America in Bloomington. Even with economic uncertainty out of the nation’s capital, local experts are optimistic that the trend will continue through 2013.
“Last year, every shopping center had four to five vacant spaces out of 30 or 40 and now everyone has one or two spaces vacant,” said Yount.
New retail stores set to open this year will aid in the recovery. They include Ashley Furniture, which will open in the former Big Lots location in Bloomington’s Colonial Plaza, a site that had been vacant since 2007.
Yount credits an improved national economy for the trend he began to see last year — more businesses taking a leap of faith and opening a new location or expanding into a bigger space after holding back for years. Also helping the trend are property owners willing to make financial concessions to fill vacancies.
Bridal Elegance is one example. In late December the store reopened at 105 Krispy Kreme Drive, Bloomington, in a space double the size of its previous location on East Empire Street. Owner Jan Ferracuti said a break on rent for the new space helped.
“We had outgrown our physical space; we needed more dressing rooms and we felt that it was time for us,” said Ferracuti, who said the decision to expand came after careful consideration for about a year.
When New Mexico residents Mary Young and Michael Webb made the decision to move to the Twin Cities to open a new yogurt business here, they had a difficult time securing a location, said Young.
“Bloomington seems to have escaped the recession relatively unscathed and there weren’t many open spaces,” said Young.
The couple’s new business, Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt, is set to open early next month at 115 Krispy Kreme Drive. Young said the location was selected because of traffic flow along Veterans Parkway and its proximity to other merchants and major employers, including State Farm.
Yount said quality of life in the Twin Cities is among the factors that lure new businesses. But the Bloomington-Normal area still has room for improvement, said Yount, adding that a vacancy rate closer to 5 percent is ideal. The area’s industrial market is still struggling with about 20 percent vacancy rate, while office space has a 15 percent rate.
Ken Springer, director of research and client services for the Economic Development Council of the Bloomington-Normal Area, said over the last year the agency has seen more requests by existing businesses for help in expanding. The EDC helps with financing applications, securing a bigger location or setting up training programs for new employees, said Springer.
“If I had to summarize it in one phrase, it’s about expansion,” said Springer.