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Retail rebounds in Charlottesville as vacancy rates hit lowest level since before pandemic

Business is looking up in Charlottesville retail real estate.

The vacancy rate in the city’s six major shopping districts dropped 3% in the six months between July of last year and this past January. Now at 4.2%, it is the lowest Charlottesville’s vacancy rate has been since before the pandemic, according to a recent report conducted by the Charlottesville Office of Economic Development.

The pandemic pummeled the retail sector nationally and locally. Thousands of retailers across the U.S. had to close shop and major names, from high-end Neiman Marcus to low-cost JCPenney, filed for bankruptcy protection. In January of 2021, 34 of Charlottesville 444 retail spaces were empty, according to the city report.

Three years later, that number has been reduced to 19 out of now-450 retail spaces. The rates are encouraging for all, but particularly for unique, locally owned shops, according to Matt Johnson, the city’s assistant director of economic development.

“The overall number 4.22% for January 2024 is the lowest we’ve seen post-pandemic,” Johnson told The Daily Progress. “Some of that is due to the fact that there’s continued viewing of Charlottesville as being a good place to do business, especially for retail stores wanting to move in here.”

The report focused on six major shopping districts in the city: the Downtown Mall, the Corner by the University of Virginia, Seminole Square Shopping Center, Barracks Road Shopping Center, McIntire Plaza and Preston Plaza.

The vacancy rate on the Downtown Mall in the heart of the city fell from 5.79% in July to 3.14% in January. The area, defined in the report as the city’s eight-block pedestrian mall, its cross streets and neighboring East Market and Water streets, saw the addition of the Beautiful Idea queer makers’ market, Botanique & Co. plant store, the Which Lab sandwich shop and Bonny & Read seafood restaurant.

Two businesses set to be joining that lot include UVa Credit Union, coming to 400 E. Main St., and the Quisine restaurant, at 422 E. Main St. in the old Passiflora space which closed with the rest of restaurateur Hunter Smith’s restaurants last year. Quisine is owned by Charlottesville businessman J.R. Hadley, who has yet to officially announce his plans for the space.

Originally, chef Laura Fonner was supposed to join Hadley at the space and lead the kitchen. Fonner, however, has since joined the team at Common House, the private social club on West Market Street.

The Daily Progress reached out to Hadley. He did not respond.

Seminole Square saw the largest drop in vacancy rates, falling from 15.55% in July to 4.44% in January. Located on the border of the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, the shopping center is easily accessible to both markets, which could explain what attracted the Super Bit video game store, Physician Engineered Products medical supply store and Minerals & Mystics alternative jewelry store.

“[Seminole Square] had a pretty substantial drop in the number of vacancies, it was very positive to see some of those spaces getting backfilled,” said Johnson. “I think that’s indicative of the strength of that corridor as it grows and becomes more popular from both Charlottesville and the Albemarle side.”

Barracks, McIntire and the Corner all saw their vacancy rates rise, but not enough to tilt the overall market.

Barracks lost both Fink’s Jewelers and Rebecca’s Natural Food in the past six months, but it has also had five new store leases signed in that same time: Bath and Body works, Playa Bowls, Phenix Salon Suites, American Eagle and Aerie.

The Corner has three vacant storefronts, but has been seeing more leases signed lately with the addition of Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers and the future return of Littlejohn’s New York Delicatessen.

McIntire has one retail space sitting empty, the former home of RCRC Cryotherapy.

“The three areas where the vacancies have increased, each one of those only had one additional vacancy than in the prior study, so it has not been a massive jump,” said Johnson. “Overall, it just speaks to how well Charlottesville continues to be viewed as a place for businesses to come in and thrive.”

Preston Plaza’s vacancy rate was 0% in January, unchanged from July of last year.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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