Dozens of retailers bound for Michigan

Posted on July 27, 2012

After a development lull in the past few years, a bevy of homegrown and national retailers said Thursday they are looking to renovate empty stores, fill in vacant spots and relocate to growing communities in hopes of capturing Metro Detroit’s improving economic prospects.

Some of the retail and restaurant chains said they are targeting parts of Detroit.

Among the biggest names to announce expansion plans at the “Retail Runway” event, part of the International Council of Shopping Centers’ Michigan Idea Exchange, was Gap Inc. The apparel giant said it will bring up to three high-end athletic clothing Athleta stores to southeast Michigan next year, a part of its chain that is new to Michigan.

The Gap brand had closed stores in Michigan, but the contraction is over and most of the company’s new investment will be in its outlet and Athleta properties, said Kathryn Ritter, Gap’s director of real estate in Chicago.

Gap purchased former catalog retailer Athleta in 2008 and started opening stores offering women’s yoga and other athletic clothing as well as swimwear in 2011.

California’s Panda Express said it is on track to open as many as six Chinese restaurants in Michigan, adding to its mall-based spots in Troy and Auburn Hills, said Real Estate manager Taeyun Kim. The company can pay cash for the right properties, Kim said.

Add in up to 10 new Party City stores, as many as eight Big Lots and a half-dozen Tropical Smoothie Cafes, and you have a retail renaissance, said event organizer Jim Stokas of Stokas Bieri Real Estate.

Retailers have sensed the changing atmosphere in the region thanks to the improving fortunes among the Detroit Three automakers, Stokas added.

“It’s going to continue with more retailers looking into our marketplace,” he told the audience of about 300 landlords, developers and real estate experts during the hour-long presentation at The Henry hotel.

In many instances, the companies did not identify particular communities where they want to locate. The runway presenters give just enough details in hopes of prompting attractive lease or real estate offers.

Highlights included commitments from New York-based DiBella’s Old Fashioned Submarines to build between three to five of its sit-down restaurants following openings in Ann Arbor and Auburn Hills. Jersey Mike’s, another fast-casual submarine chain, hopes to open at least 15 locations in Michigan next year, said Joe Rybowicz, regional vice president of real estate for the New Jersey-based group.

“We’re ready to roll in Michigan,” said Rybowicz, who said the chain has one store in Ann Arbor and two more under construction. “We can do as many deals as people can present to us.”

Locally, Madison Heights-based pizza chain Hungry Howie’s said it is looking for about a dozen new spots around southeast Michigan, including Detroit. Bruce F. Brock, manager of new store development, told the crowd that Hungry Howie’s had its second year of record sales, so it is ready to grow as fast as the market will bear.

Brock’s presentation brought laughs and applause from the audience when he played a pizza-themed version of the popular “Made in Detroit” commercial, created by Chrysler Group LLC for Super Bowl XLV.

The video, which featured a choir singing Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” claimed in part that “it’s the hottest ovens that make the tastiest pizzas” and teased the company’s competition with taunts that “this isn’t some hut, and we’re not playing games, and we certainly aren’t buying pizza from some pretty boy.”

Retailers showed greater interest in moving into Detroit, particularly the downtown and Midtown areas.

7-Eleven said it wants to locate several stores in those areas for customers looking for speed and convenience, said Michael Anderer, a senior Real Estate representative for 7-Eleven in Michigan.

It also has plans to renovate existing sites to have a contemporary, coffeehouse-style image.

“If you look at where we’re located now, there’s a bit of a doughnut effect with a hole where Detroit is,” Anderer said. “We’re looking to change that and get back into the downtown area.”

Expansion plans

Metro Detroit store developments announced at Retail Runway:

7-Eleven: 20 stores in Metro Detroit, including six in Detroit, in 2013
Hungry Howie’s: About 12 locations in Metro Detroit
Jersey Mike’s: At least 15 locations in Michigan in 2013
Party City: Up to 10 stores
Big Lots: As many as eight stores
Panda Express: Up to six restaurants in Michigan
DiBella’s Old Fashioned Submarines: Three to five outlets
Gap Inc.’s Athleta: Up to three stores in southeast Michigan

By Karen Dybis, The Detroit News