North Village Shopping Center in North Brunswick — Courtesy: Levin Management Corp.
By Joshua Burd
The changing face of retail is on full display at the North Village Shopping Center on Route 1, where a new Trader Joe’s recently opened in a space vacated by Barnes & Noble.
The center has now attracted another leading name in retail — all part of an effort by its management team to reinvent the property for the second time in less than 20 years.
Levin Management Corp., which oversees the complex, announced this week that Ulta Beauty has leased 13,000 square feet at the North Brunswick property. The fast-growing beauty retailer joins the hair care franchise Sport Clips as the newest tenants at the 128,000-square-foot center, which is also anchored by Bed Bath & Beyond and Michaels.
“If there are a couple of tenants who are in the marketplace today, who you wanted to have in your shopping center, Ulta and Trader Joe’s are probably in the top handful of those for an open-air center of this type,” said Matthew Harding, president of LMC. “So we’re very pleased to have those join. Sport Clips is a good draw as well — and we know that we’ll … add tenants that will fully build out the mix and work well with other tenants in the shopping center.”
The new leases come amid an effort to reposition the center, which began in 2016 when Barnes & Noble opted to close its 25,000-square-foot anchor store. Harding said LMC could have backfilled the store to a user of a similar size, but the firm elected to divide the space when it saw the opportunity to bring Trader Joe’s to the complex.
He noted that the specialty grocer, which is known to be selective and deliberate with its locations, keeps its stores “spaced fairly well apart because they pull from a fairly wide radius.” That made North Village “even more of a destination shopping center” and created additional value for the other tenants when Trader Joe’s signed its 13,250-square-foot lease.
“It’s always been a strong center, but when an opportunity like that presents itself, you have to think long-term and see what’s best for the center,” Harding said. “So would it have been easier? I know that we could have just re-leased that space to another tenant, but it wouldn’t have been as dynamic and taken a couple steps forward with it, which is what we elected to do.”
Carving up a big box is not always a realistic option, he said, given that, “if you have a larger space, cutting off a smaller portion of that is going to really impede your ability to rent the balance of the space.” But the North Brunswick property proved to be a good fit because the Barnes & Noble space was on the end of the shopping center.
“In this case here, it really worked out well,” Harding said, noting that the parking lot wraps around the corner of the building. That meant the landlord could create an attractive corner space for Trader Joe’s and leave units on both sides that would appeal to other tenants.
“So you have to be adaptable,” Harding said, “and where the physical structure allows you to do it, be flexible in reconfiguring things because the needs and configurations of retailers really change over time.”
He and his North Plainfield-based firm would know. LMC was managing the shopping center when a 120,000-square-foot Bradlees store closed its doors in 1999, leaving behind a space that was 240 feet deep. Simply dividing the store would have resulted in units that were too narrow, Harding said, so the firm demolished 40 feet from the front of the building and rebuilt the façade.
It subsequently inked leases with Barnes & Noble, Bed Bath & Beyond and Michaels after having created spaces that “were much more workable and met the requirements of those tenants for their typical layouts,” he said. In the process, the center was left with additional parking in front of the property and space for a new freestanding restaurant.
“That enabled us to really get in three great tenants and use what was now the full depth of the building,” Harding said. “Otherwise, we probably would have had to mothball some of the space in the back.”
He reflected on the fact that what had been a single-tenant, 120,000-square-foot space has now been divided twice and converted to six spaces. But the opportunity to bring in Trader Joe’s was well worth the effort and the investment. And as the firm set out to make the most recent modifications, it also took the opportunity to renovate other parts of the center such as the pylon sign and common areas.
LMC is now set to begin its build-out for Ulta and Sport Clips, following leases brokered by Leasing Representative Vanessa Fernandez. According to Harding, both will fit well with the firm’s efforts to keep the property viable for years to come.
“It’s a continuing evolution of retail,” he said. “We’ve renovated and re-renovated shopping centers time after time and, as trends change, store formats change and the pace of that is probably increasing even today.
“You really have to be aware of that and try to plan for it, and in the right places, be able to make a commitment to invest to really change things to make the property stronger for the future.”