Life after Sears - Changes near for Cape's Town Plaza

Monday, June 21, 2004

After years of speculation, it's official. Sears Grand is coming to Cape Girardeau. Most of the area's politicians, business people and shoppers are rejoicing at landing a new outlet of one of the nation's largest retailers. But for merchants in the William Street Town Plaza Shopping Center, its coming is bittersweet.

For over 40 years, the Sears store at 2102 William St. has been one of the anchor stores of Town Plaza. However, when Sears, Roebuck and Co. confirmed the plans for construction of a new concept store off Siemers Drive, it also announced that the old Sears and its employees will be transplanted to the new store at the building's completion in late 2005. That will leave 58,000 square feet at Town Plaza vacant.

"The only reaction I have is that it leaves an empty building," said Rodney Bridges, owner of Garber's Men's Wear at 2110 William St. in the plaza. "You hate to lose any tenant. We'll certainly miss them."

Creating a destination

Having been at one location or another in the plaza since 1960, Garber's is one of the plaza's original anchors -- the other current anchors being Hastings, Town Plaza Cinema and Sears. Bridges has owned the business for 32 years, and in that time he's seen a shift in the nature of his business. That shift leads him to be optimistic about the future of the plaza in the face of Sears' absence.

"Years ago, this was Cape's mall," Bridges said, harkening back to a time before shopping malls, before Westfield Shoppingtown came to Cape Girardeau.

Bridges said at that time with Sears in the plaza and J.C. Penney's and Montgomery Ward across the street, he'd see people park in front of one of those retailers and spend the entire day shopping at the nearby stores. But in the era of the mall and hyper-convenience, Bridges said those days of trickle-down shopping are over.

"I don't see people parking at Sears and then coming over to us," Bridges said. He said the way he and other merchants in the plaza have adapted to these changing times is to find a niche that will make their businesses destinations in themselves.

Kenny Lee, who owns Kenny Lee Jewelers in the Town Plaza, is confident his store fits into that category. That's why he's not worried about Sears leaving.

"I never thought they'd leave," Lee said. "They do good business here."

Sears spokeswoman Corinne Gudovic confirmed that the reason Sears will be moving is not because of lack of business, but lack of space at the William Street building to accommodate the expanded store concept of the Sears Grand.

Attractive site

Either way, Lee said that he and most of the other stores in the plaza are established, with regular customers who will not be deterred by the absence of Sears. While he doesn't like to see the loss of a major merchant in the plaza, Lee said he doesn't see the Sears building staying vacant for long. He said its easy access and plentiful parking offers customers convenience that is bound to attract merchants to the location.

That is the hope of the plaza's landlords, Greater Missouri Builders in St. Charles, Mo. Vice president Kent Evans said the company would have liked an opportunity to make an offer to expand the current site.

While he's disappointed to see Sears go, he said the building is still at the second-busiest intersection in town -- the busiest being where William meets Interstate 55, the area to which Sears is moving. Like Lee, Evans said that should offer incentive to prospective occupants.

Evans also pointed out that even though Sears is an anchor store of the plaza, it is separate from the main drag. This differentiates the plaza Sears from the typical mall Sears in that there isn't as much foot traffic from the department store to the sidewalks of the other stores.

Owner Bill Zellmer of Buffalo Wild Wings isn't worried about a lack of foot traffic from Sears. He said his restaurant, which opened in 2002, has always been a destination location. While he hates to see a major anchor leave the plaza, he's hopeful a replacement will fill any void.

"Town Plaza will be fine," he said.

trehagen@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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