BELLEVILLE — Although Carlyle Plaza has five vacancies, the shopping center's leasing agent says there is a lot of interest from potential new businesses.
"We have consummated several deals in the past year, year and a half," said Eddie Cherry, of THF Realty in St. Louis. "And we're really wanting to get the word out to local businesses to get the shopping center back to life."
The largest vacancy in the Carlyle Avenue shopping center is a 126,846-square-foot store, where Walmart operated for several years until January 2008, when the big-box retailer left for a newer and bigger location at the new Green Mount Commons shopping center down the road.
However, Cherry said although the east Belleville store has sat vacant for the past four years, Walmart still has less than a year remaining on its lease. He said he expects a new lease soon thereafter.
"Once the lease expires, we'll be in discussion with several uses for that property," Cherry said. "We have not consummated a deal prior to that because they are paying a pretty high rent today. We have received preliminary interest from a few different users."
Cherry said he is not at liberty to mention potential suitors, but said that the shopping center has recently welcomed a series of new tenants this year, including a photography studio called Studio M, All Styles Barber & Beauty Salon and At-Home Computer Repair. Last April, At-Home Computer Repair owner Zak Olack relocated his computer repair service to Carlyle Plaza when his former landlord sold his previous location on East Main Street in Belleville. He said his new location gets more traffic and the rent he pays for his 1,500-square-foot store is cheap.
"This is a typical strip mall," Olack said. "It seems a lot more professional than where I was. I do like it. There is better parking, better visibility and the place itself is well built."
Marlon Cornish is the co-owner of All Styles Barber & Beauty Salon, which he opened a month ago.
"The response has been pretty good," Cornish said. "It's a barber shop, so we have people walk in from the neighborhood and people come in from Schnucks. People stop to go grocery shopping who also come in here and get their nails done. I've seen some who come and get their nails done and buy Chinese food (at China Town Restaurant, also in Carlyle Plaza) in one visit."
Schnucks has operated a grocery store in the shopping center since 1995, a year after National Supermarket had opened there. Spokeswoman Lori Willis said although the shopping center has its share of empty stores, she is encouraged to hear there are businesses interested in locating there.
"We look forward to seeing all of the good things to come and seeing the plaza rebound," Willis said. "It would be good to have some company there."
Six months ago, Bob Phillips moved from Texas to Freeburg, and is back in the metro-east after having lived in O'Fallon 30 years ago. He said he frequently shops at Carlyle Plaza because he likes the layout of the stores.
"I do hit Office Depot when I need to and I've had an occasion to send something FedEx, so I go to that place up at the corner," Phillips said about the stores he has visited in the shopping center.
Belleville resident Brooke Arnold said she will shop elsewhere, but not before she goes to Carlyle Plaza because it's near her home.
"The convenience is definitely a major factor," Arnold said. "That way, I can just stop by here and it's easier on gas."
Soon, another store will be leaving the shopping center. Fashion Bug is in business on an outlot building of the shopping center, but the retail chain has announced plans to close all 300 of its stores. The east Belleville store is expected to go out of business by next month.
Belleville resident Tammy Stafstrom said she will miss the women's clothing store and is also concerned that another store will be vacant at Carlyle Plaza.
"It's just disappointing that a lot of the stores are vacant," Stafstrom said. "I would like to see Belleville thriving a little more. We're losing city revenue. It's sad. Also I've also noticed more stores going out of business and there's more panhandling. People are knocking on my car door, and it's scary."
But Cherry said the soon-to-be vacated Fashion Bug store also has a business interested in reoccupying that store.
"We have a tenant pursuing that space," he said. "We're in early discussions."
Cherry said that he expects to have more tenants sign leases at Carlyle Plaza in the coming months. But he said he could not disclose further details.
"There is some interest and we're working in the shopping center and encouraging local business to look aggressively at the shopping center," he said. "For opportunities we're pursuing, those in the Belleville market, as far as pending deals, there is nothing to report today. But in the coming months, there will be and we'll have some more updates."
The Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce conducted a development tour in October and met with agents marketing the shopping center.
Chamber Executive Director John Lengerman is optimistic about Carlyle Plaza's future.
"I think it's a vital shopping area," Lengerman said. "It was instrumental in growing that area when Walmart opened at the shopping center and what came out after that, I believe. It is certainly vital to that area, where there are a lot of students and a lot of rooftops. We would love to see it filled up."
But with newer shopping centers cropping up across the city like Belleville Crossing, which opened in 2007, and Green Mount Commons opening down the road that same year, older retail centers are challenged to stay competitive, Cherry said.
"I think the east Belleville area has had a tough time, but we're working hard at this shopping center," Cherry said. "It's not easy, but we're aggressively pursuing Belleville-area businesses and trying to revamp the area."
Contact reporter Will Buss at email@example.com or 239-2526.