Real Estate and Retail

Breton Village marks retail resurgence

Sur La Table joins Fresh Thyme as the latest entries in the evolving corridor.

February 12, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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Sur La Table
Seattle-based retailer Sur La Table, which is known for its in-store cooking classes, hopes to begin construction in Breton South Village later this year. Courtesy Sur La Table

Following its heyday during the 1970s and ’80s, Breton Village Mall began a period of slow decline.

Aside from the anchor D&W grocery store, the facility was a revolving door of shops often sparse with shoppers when Scott Wierda and his Jade Pig Ventures partner, Brian DeVries, purchased the mall in the early 2000s.

Wierda said the purchase was based on the firm’s belief in real estate fundamentals, and the partners had high hopes for the mall’s future.

“With the expansion of super regional malls like RiverTown Crossings, you got fragmented shopping at larger, enclosed malls, and retail went away from that area,” Wierda said.

“We didn’t have to create a new marketplace. We looked at where people live, with good traffic, income and education levels.”

As the Great Recession took over and shook out outskirt malls and shopping centers, and as Wierda cofounded CWD Real Estate Development, which now manages Breton Village, those real estate fundamentals helped lay the foundation for the resurgent shopping center on the corner of Breton Road SE and Burton Street SE.

“We were maybe contrarian for a while,” Wierda said. “Perhaps the downturn helped us even though it hurt us. Although we lost tenants, 2007 and 2008 helped show retailers that fundamentals do matter.

“As the recovery started, people began to say, ‘Wow, the stores on the periphery were hit the hardest and the ones that came back the quickest were the ones with great fundamentals.”

National retailers began looking at Grand Rapids because of its strong recovery from the Great Recession, and because of the strength of local retailers such as Leigh’s and Fitzgerald’s, Breton Village began to draw interest, first from Anthropologie, which opened in 2011.

Wierda said Anthropologie took time to analyze the Grand Rapids area and settled on Breton Village because of strong local retailers and real estate fundamentals.

Retailers are often attracted by strong locations and co-tenancy, so as complementary stores set up shop in the area, even more will come, Wierda said.

“You look at a lot of cities and you hear about fashion districts, and in Grand Rapids we never had one,” Wierda said. “This area is quickly becoming that. As more realize it’s a great site, as I continue to convey that vision of the site, then the next one happens and more realize it is a great site.

“We’re past the tough part.”

The Breton Village Mall development has also attracted first-to-the-market retailers such as lululemon, West Elm and Orvis.

In 2013, CWD purchased the former Michigan Athletic Club site across Burton Street from Breton Village and rebranded it Breton South Village. Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, another retailer new to West Michigan, opens later this month, as construction on the site’s second building finishes up so another new West Michigan tenant, Sur La Table, can begin its store build-out.

The location was enticing to Sur La Table, which has four “good” stores in the Metro Detroit area and recognized a market opportunity based on demographics in Grand Rapids, said Mark Comstock, vice president of real estate for Sur La Table.

The Seattle-based kitchen goods retailer doesn’t consider itself a standalone destination, so the location next to Fresh Thyme and the soft-goods retailers across the street was very appealing to Sur La Table. The retailer has more than 130 stores, and many follow the same model to locate near other like-minded retailers.

Comstock said the company settled on Breton South Village because of the area’s demographics, its convenience, as well as the adjacent retailers.

“The customers that Fresh Thyme will draw and the frequency they will shop (there) made a compelling argument,” Comstock said. “It’s a synergy. We look at what will be best for the consumer and other markets that appeal to her that will be good for us.

Sur La Table will occupy a building with approximately 8,800 square feet of space; about 38,000 square feet of Breton South Village’s total 85,000 square feet now are spoken for. More potential tenants are in the works, but nothing is imminent, Wierda said.

Wierda said he’s confident Sur La Table will be in West Michigan for a long time.

“We don’t flip. We buy and reposition and develop properties in the right way and hold on to them,” he said. “From our approach, it seems to be the way to do it.”

The resurgence of Breton Village has been far from explosive, but Wierda said that’s OK since he would prefer a steady incline. He does enjoy that potential clients are now calling to compliment him on the center he’s helped develop and to express their desire to be there.

Just because a retailer wants in doesn’t mean they’ll be signed.

“We’re trying to keep a nice balance,” Wierda said. “We don’t just sign a lease with anybody. If we don’t feel it will add to the tenant mix and the co-tenancy and center value, we don’t do it. We’d sit vacant before we do that.”

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