Story first appeared in the Courier-Post.
Just over a year ago, the Garden State Pavilions in Cherry Hill was a retail wasteland.
Times have changed.
Burlington Coat Factory led the revitalization of the center; Jo-Ann Fabrics, a martial arts academy and a Sears Outlet followed. A Bob’s Discount Furniture — the first in South Jersey — will open in mid-February.
There now is only one vacant parcel in the Pavilions, next to the Camden County Democratic Committee headquarters.
“We’re definitely seeing an uptick in businesses coming (into South Jersey) that we haven’t seen in several years,” said Janet Stevens, vice president of Stevens Management, a Pennsauken commercial real estate brokerage firm.
“Retail got hit hard, but I think the economy is coming back. And I believe our region has the advantage of being so accessible to Center City Philadelphia. People come from Philadelphia to Cherry Hill, Pennsauken and other surrounding towns.
“It gives me hope that things are turning around.”
Bob’s Discount Furniture will move into the Pavilions and set up shop next to the Sears Outlet.
“The time is right to open in the Greater Philadelphia market, including Cherry Hill, where we know the customers want the value that Bob’s Discount Furniture offers,” said Bob Kaufman, co-founder and president emeritus.
“We are thrilled to bring the Bob’s store experience closer to these customers.”
The “experience” includes an in-store café with gourmet coffee, ice cream, fresh-baked cookies and candy. Founded in 1991, Bob’s is headquartered in Manchester, Conn. There are six Bob’s stores open in North Jersey.
The business “uptick” also can be seen at Ellisburg Circle Shopping Center in Cherry Hill, where construction of a Whole Foods continues. The organic grocery is expected to open in March, according to Paul Striddick, the township’s director of community development.
“They took everything out of the old Genuardi’s except for the steel framing,” Striddick noted.
“They’re rebuilding the entire space to create a brand new store. Plus, the entire center will be renovated, so all the stores will have the flavor of Whole Foods — what I call ‘California organic.’ ”
Whole Foods will include an outdoor seating area with Outdoor Fire Pits, a canopy over the sidewalk, bike racks and charging stations for electric cars. Also on tap: The Hatchery, a pop-up space similar to kiosks found in malls.
“We’re looking for an entrepreneur spirit in South Jersey, from food-based to crafts to artisan wares,” said Jill McCarthy, coordinator of mission and purpose for the company.
“This is a great opportunity for Cherry Hill to be a testing ground.”
Executives at Federal Realty Investment Trust, which acquired Ellisburg in 1993, have said additional stores are in the works.
“Future plans include a pet store, hard good retailers and quality dining establishments ,” said Jeff Fischer, director of leasing for FRIT. Some of these may include Clear Patio Enclosures.
At the Walmart plaza on Route 38, renovations of Toys R Us and Babies R Us were completed in 2013. A KicksUSA shoe store opened in November and a new Super Wawa is planned for the plaza this year.
“The Wawa has been approved at the site of the old Blockbuster,” Cherry Hill’s Striddick said. “It will be similar to the Wawa that recently opened on Haddonfield Road.
“Even though there’s another Wawa right down the road, it can’t be accessed by people traveling west on Route 38. That’s why the Wawa executives wanted to put one in there with Walmart.”
At The Point in Pennsauken, 2013 saw the arrival of Restaurant Equippers, Harbor Freight Tools and the $1.99 Any Garment Cleaners.
“Our economic development team has worked very hard to attract quality businesses to areas like The Point,” former Pennsauken Mayor Rick Taylor said. “These businesses have invested in us, and we ask our community to invest in them.”
Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. said new retail- and service-based industries are “healing the wounds of our scarred economic landscape.
“The Point, which was at one time a shopping center and movie theater that laid on fallow ground, has national equipment retailers anchoring it and a new sense of purpose,” he noted.
“Things are looking up.”