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Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Mullins: Expect some new brands around town

At the end of last week’s retail and restaurant trade show in Orlando, I tallied up names of all the new brands hoping to open in the greater Tampa area and shared that list with Justin Greider, a well-connected broker in Florida with Crossman & Co.

Private schools, bakery restaurants, chocolate shops, niche grocery stores and so on.

“You know what the common theme to all those guys is,” he asked rhetorically. “They all do something that can’t entirely be replaced by the Internet.” Sure, he noted, some of them can have both brick-and-mortar retail space while also selling things online, but the story of growth in this region right now has two parts.

Part 1. There is virtually no new construction of major shopping centers. There’s one near Sarasota going up now — the only one in the nation. This is an after-effect of rampant overbuilding during the boom years. Most of the new development is actually redevelopment of existing shopping areas until new tenants fill up vacant space so much that rents start rising and developers start building more projects. That could take some time.

Which brings me to Part 2. There’s a string of existing brands like The Fresh Market, Aldi and Walgreens that are ever-so-cautiously adding more locations. That means just a select few new names will be coming to Tampa. So here they are, and they range from those whose owners are very interested in Tampa but haven’t picked sites yet to those who are rabidly scouting sites and hope to open in the next 12 to 14 months.

Two private day care and after care schools are scouting sites in Tampa — close on the heels of the Primrose School that was just built on Kennedy Boulevard.

The first is a company called O2B Kids that’s been around for 15 years and already has five locations around Gainesville. It tends to build 28,000-square-foot schools (somewhat smaller than a small Publix) and offer a “membership model,” where a family joins for something like full-time preschool care but can also sign up older kids for dozens of after-school classes like karate, chess, art and science. “Our ideal member is that dual-income, two-kid family that’s in the upper-middle-class bracket,” said Laurie Denny, whose official company title is “Super Duper Girl.

DoodleBugs is further along and wants to have a school open by the end of 2014 in the Tampa area. It’s a Buffalo, N.Y.-based company that’s been around for 21 years and tends to build very well-thought-out schools that offer everything from infant care to programs for 12-year-olds.

“Hillsborough County schools are getting better,” said DoodleBugs President Anthony Insinna, “but there are still a lot of people looking for options.” Insinna is closely targeting the Westchase and Carrollwood areas, but look for others to open after that.

Fans of bulk food bins should carve out some time to shop in Brandon as a niche retailer called Bulk Nation is set to open in Regency Square. The stores are about half the size of a CVS and sell things like bulk coffee, rice, jelly beans, nuts and flour. If all goes according to plan, the store could be open within a month or so, said Massimo Rastrelli, a leasing consultant with Casto Southeast Realty Services who helped broker the deal.

Niche grocery chains The Fresh Market and Aldi could hardly be on farther ends of the food spectrum (the first is ultra gourmet, the second ultra Spartan value) but they both plan to selectively add new locations. This is something of a “great squeeze” effect, said Jim Michalak, managing partner of Plaza Advisors, who underwrites the sale of grocery-store based strip centers. “No one can compete against Publix and Wal-Mart together,” he said, “and that leaves everyone else squeezed.” The opportunity then, he said, is for niche players like Aldi, dollar stores and Whole Foods to pick up shoppers who don’t mind stopping by two or three different stores for their weekly groceries.

The era of the quaint chocolate shop may seem something from long ago, but some are coming back. Peterbrooke Chocolatier had shops around Tampa Bay at one point, but they closed down amid a struggle with a franchisee, said Chief Operating Officer Jeffery Smith. Now he has locations in Orlando and The Villages and is looking to re-enter the Tampa market. For foodies, it’s worth trying both their chocolate-covered pineapple creams and — more importantly — their pepper-spiced chocolate-covered toffees.

Several companies have poked around the recently closed Sweetbay grocery locations, including the Miami-based Sedano’s Supermarket. But as of yet, there are no deals announced.

The Corner Bakery has a similar concept as Panera. Though it’s a smaller company, it plans a slew of locations around the Tampa Bay region. Last year, a franchisee signed a deal for this area, and the company plans to open at least 14 locations in Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties over the next several years. Though not a presence at the trade show in Orlando, the West Elm store did set an opening date for a new location in Hyde Park Village. It takes the place of sister company Williams-Sonoma and should open Sept. 18. West Elm is a hipper version home goods store, with modernist and quirky couches, chairs, accessories and such.

All in all, this kind of modest, more deliberate expansion may not rival the insane development volume of the boom years, but Greider of Crossman & Co. summed up the sentiment of the conference: “Things are getting better, and people are working harder to make smarter choices,” he said. “You actually don’t want a boom of development, because it’s always followed by a crash.”

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