YORK – Jim Noel, the economic development director for York County, admits the businesses in his locality, in general, have fared well during the pandemic. Still, he knows there are challenges ahead.
“We do not have a really super high vacancy rate,” he said. “But frankly, between covid and the Amazon impact, we’re very concerned about the future of our retail spaces.”
He said commercial properties often deteriorate quickly when not occupied. As a generator of tax revenue for the county, their success is York’s success. That is one of the reasons the York County Economic Development Authority recently signed a contract with Retail Strategies to recruit businesses to the area.
“We thought about this for a long time,” he said. “We have such a small staff so we look a lot of times to outsource things or look for help from consultants or other advisers to augment what we’re doing.”
With the pandemic and increase in online shopping, brick-and-mortar stores have been hard hit.
“We want to try to certainly keep our market share, and increase it if possible,” he said. “And with what’s going on in the world, it’s becoming more and more difficult to do that.”
Retail Strategies, which had to go through the county’s procurement process, was highly recommend by people who also do business with the county.
“The key here is they have relationships with all the national retailers,” Noel said. “They’re up on the newest concepts.”
He said company officials have toured the area, analyzed the community, and collected a large amount of data to find opportunities to increase York County’s retail presence. In addition to sharing all the information with Noel’s team, Retail Strategies then tries to recruit businesses it deems would be a good fit.
“There’s another company in the same industry that provides you with all kinds of data, but they don’t really represent you out there. They just give you the data,” he said. “Well, that’s great. But I don’t have the time and the staff to make use of that. Well, this company does, which was another reason why we selected them.”
He noted Retail Strategies represents other localities in Virginia, but no one else in Hampton Roads.
“That was another important factor for us,” he said.
The biggest retail space vacant in the county right now, besides the Marquis Shopping Center, is the former Super Kmart store in Village Square at Kiln Creek. The Super Kmart was a 200,000-square foot building, and Kroger bought half of that, but the other half is vacant. Noel sees a lot of potential with the site.
“It’s a great location (with) two signalized entrances into that shopping center,” he said.
He added there is a high traffic count on Victory Boulevard, and it’s an area with “incredibly strong demographics, high income levels.”
“We just have to find the right retailer,” he said.
The hiring of Retail Strategies to a three-year contract should help. Noel mentioned the length of the contract was important, also.
“This is not something you can do just as a one-off,” he said. “It needs to be a steady, steady beat.”
He pointed out this type of arrangement isn’t unusual, adding other localities are doing it, although not with Retail Strategies.
“It’s just something that we had held off on, but based on the covid environment, we just see that market getting tougher and tougher, and thought it’d be good idea to try to get some help,” Noel said.