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COVID-19 shuffles chain store expansion plans

Pandemic has national brands rethinking timelines

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Though construction is considered an essential service in Springfield under COVID-19 orders, several national brands that were planning to expand in the Ozarks have put those projects on hold.

Corporate officials say the altered timelines are largely a result of the different city, state and federal stay-at-home orders set in response to the new coronavirus pandemic.

On top of that, several national retailers have had to juggle closed storefronts, companywide furloughs and the shift to an online-only format in the last two months as retail sales dropped. U.S. retail sales in March were down 8.7% seasonally adjusted from February – the largest monthly drop in history, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

On hold
Ulta Beauty Inc. (Nasdaq: ULTA) representatives confirmed in March that the chain was planning to open its second Springfield store. Now, company officials aren’t sure about the infill timeline or if the store at Springfield Plaza is guaranteed.

“We announced we’d open 75 new stores in 2020, and that’s shifting,” said Ulta Beauty Vice President of Public Relations Eileen Ziesemer. “That’s not to say we’re not going to open where we’ve talked about, like Springfield. But right now, we don’t have a concrete number of how many stores will open this year or where.”

Ziesemer said the company is juggling multiple regulations and stay-at-home timelines in each state, as well as federal guidelines that have caused the company to put a hold on construction.

Tom Rankin, co-developer of Springfield Plaza, said via email he doesn’t anticipate construction delays for the exterior of the space at 3920 W. Washita St. For infill work, Illinois-based architect RGLA Solutions was hired on to the project, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.

Ulta Beauty’s 1,254 stores nationwide have been closed since mid-March because of COVID-19, and the company furloughed many of its employees April 19, according to a company news release. The company is still processing online orders.

“Ulta Beauty wants to come to more places in Missouri,” Ziesemer said. “We’re looking at revised dates and timelines at the moment.”

A few miles east from Springfield Plaza, one of the planned summer openings in the Queen City was a Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers restaurant at the corner of Sunshine Street and Campbell Avenue.

Adjacent to Bass Pro, SBJ observed an empty lot on April 21. A sign was posted near the construction site that details an open position for general manager of the fast food restaurant, though a job listing was not available on the company website for Springfield. Representatives of Raising Cane’s could not be reached for comment by deadline.

Property owner Jason Pullman, who’s developed a retail center next to the Raising Cane’s corner, said he hadn’t heard from the company about its construction timeline.

“They were going to start construction a couple weeks ago,” said Pullman. “The site is turned over to them, and the lease is done, so they’re coming.

“My guess is they’ve been delayed a month.”

Ben Bills, owner of Falcon Electric LLC, said the electrical contracting company was hired on to the project and was told construction was “delayed until further notice.”

Further east on Sunshine Street, Hy-Vee Inc. officials are still planning to build the city’s second grocery store, though the timeline continues to be a moving target, said corporate spokeswoman Tina Pothoff.

She said the company is still targeting a 2021 opening, but a construction timeline had not been set prior to COVID-19. Pothoff said the company will now have to consider city regulations and advice from health care experts concerning the pandemic. The planned store has been delayed for several years, according to SBJ archives.

Hy-Vee also recently launched a partnership with the operator of Designer Shoe Warehouse, to offer shoes and accessories in 120 select stores across the country, including the Springfield location. Pothoff said the move is not in response to COVID-19.

Staying the course
A few companies are continuing construction with the intent to keep on schedule.

At the Battlefield Mall, which has been closed since mid-March, General Manager Michael Martin said construction crews are still hard at work preparing the 20,000-square-foot H&M store. The store will span six storefronts across from Old Navy.

The clothing retailer, which is expected to hire 20 employees, is set to open this fall, according to past SBJ reporting.

“Work at the site continues, but whether or not COVID-19 will impact timelines remains to be seen,” said Martin.

A statement provided by H&M, which temporarily has closed all U.S. stores, said the company will time its new store opening based on recommendations provided by the local health department and government authorities.

Construction also appears to be continuing in Primrose Marketplace at the former JCPenney Home Store, where Burlington is expected to open this fall. SBJ observed construction equipment outside the storefront on April 21.

Brendon Ruth, vice president of leasing for the Ohio-based shopping center owner, Chase Properties, declined to comment on the department store’s anticipated timeline.

Across from the mall, Lululemon Athletica Inc. (Nasdaq: LULU) is still slated to open during the first week of June in Brentwood North, said property owner Curtis Jared of Jared Enterprises Inc. The company has required minimal infill work, he said, such as fresh paint. The athletic wear company is coming to Springfield as a 3,000-square-foot pop-up store to test the market, according to past SBJ reporting.

Jared said that, as a property owner, he’s experienced a delay in communication with future tenants because most people are currently working from home. He also expressed optimism for the retail industry as he’s currently working on four undisclosed deals with national tenants.

“Once things open back up, it will move quickly,” Jared said of delayed construction.

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