Friday, April 30, 2010

April data shows new year sales plunge in Marin

Last month's reading of the retail sales tax data suggested that Marin retail sales had finally turned the corner. But April's data suggests the recovery might instead have been nothing more than a dead cat bounce.
The total value of the 1% sales tax allocated to Marin's cities in April sank to just over $1.6 million, or 16.9% lower than April 2009. April's allocations represent retail sales tax collected in the first weeks of the new year and the total is the lowest monthly allocation so far in the Great Recession.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Marinwood Farmers Market

Forget about the opening of Novato Whole Foods, the real big retail event of the year so far is the opening of the new farmers market at Marinwood Plaza. I stopped by towards the end of the market on Saturday and picked up some lunch.

There were approx 25 stalls and although the crowds had thinned by the time I got there, there were plenty of people from the local community sitting around in the sun and looking very happy to have the market there.

Let's hope the market continues to attract customers each week and helps spur redevelopment of the Plaza.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Urban Outfitters heading to Corte Madera

Huge fashion news this week with details released about the proposed new Urban Outfitters store at the Town Center Corte Madera.

Outline plans for the store were discussed at the recent Corte Madera Planning Commission meeting. The Urban Outfitters store will take the 9,154 square foot space currently occupied by Pier One, a retailer which has been in financial distress over the last year. The plans include the enclosure of the covered breezeway on the mall side, which will give the store extra space. As seen on the sketches, the design stands out from the existing Tuscan theme in quite the same way that the new Crate and Barrel store did. I wasn’t a fan of the C&B design, particularly the way in which it thrust its big white façade into the mall, but I quite like the finished product and appreciate the impact that it had on keeping the mall up to date.

This is a big move for the Town Center, which has until now steered away from competing directly with the fashion-led Village at Corte Madera. Urban Outfitters is one of my favorite stores and well overdue a representation here. The company also owns Anthropologie, which is one of the best stores at The Village, with very good merchandise and a wicked sense of humor and creativity in its display.

It will be interesting to see whether the arrival of Urban Outfitters marks a shift in the leasing strategy at the center and is followed by the opening of more apparel retailers there.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Whole Foods opens in Novato

The biggest retail event of the year so far happened last Thursday with the opening of the new Whole Foods in downtown Novato. The retailer timed the opening of the 39,000 square foot store to coincide with Earth Day, and got plenty of coverage in the local news.

I dropped by this weekend to check out the store. From the outside, the scale of the Millworks building is quite impressive. The development, which includes condo/apartments above and adjacent to the Whole Foods, is a lot larger than other buildings in the downtown area, most of which are single level.
The store was quite busy, with more people looking than were buying. Most popular was the bakery and the deli counter. Parking in the Millworks parking garage was easy, with access directly into the store on the main level or from the upper mezzanine.
The design is industrial, with exposed pipes and wires everywhere, and big signs and graphics within the store, including a container sitting atop the dry bulk goods corner.

Overall, a great addition for northern Marin shoppers; not so great for other grocers in the area...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Prepare for Fro-yo Wars in Mill Valley

I stopped by the new Swirl frozen yogurt store on Miller Avenue at the weekend. It's one of the self-serve operations where you can combine different flavors in a carton and then pile on a hundred different toppings. Nice stuff - but gets pricey if you fill the carton up. The store is at 417 Miller Avenue in the space previously occupied by the Lolipop cup cake store.

I wonder if "fro-yo frenzy" will become the 2010 version of the "cup cake craze" of 2008? Two years ago Lolipop opened at the same time as Frosting Bake Shop, another cup cake store, in downtown Mill Valley, and the Teacake Bakeshop in Corte Madera. Suddenly there were more cup cake shops than you could shake a stick at, and it was clear they wouldn't all survive. So there was a sense of deja-vu today when I read in the IJ that another self-serve fro-yo store, Yolo Yogurt Lounge was preparing to open just one block away in the new Tamalpais Commons development at 505 Miller.

Good luck to both stores, because I think they'll need it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Marin City Shopping Center for sale

One of Marin's largest retail centers, the Marin Gateway center in Marin City, is being put up for sale. According to a report in The Registry, the center, which measures 182,000 sq.ft and is anchored by big box stores Best Buy, Ross and Babies R Us, is expected to fetch around $40 million.

Marin Gateway is currently held by the Bay Area Council in it's Smart Growth Fund I, which is a fund dedicated to real estate investments that have an impact by providing jobs and incomes to local communities in need of revitalization.

Previously, the center was owned by Burnham Pacific Properties, which acquired the property for $22.3m in 1997.

Although the big boxes are solid performers, the smaller tenants have had less success, and there has been a history of tenant turnover and vacancy at the center. Four years ago, Sutter Health proposed taking over the site to build a new hospital to serve southern Marin.