I’m not sure how the current empty storefront situation in Wellesley Square and other parts of town compares historically, but a bunch of those spaces sure have been vacant for a while. It’s not like we haven’t had any businesses open — Upper Crust Pizzeria where SCORE used to be, the Papa Gino’s at 254 Washington St., the CVS coming to Rte. 9 — but there’s plenty of room for newcomers.
I’ve done the rounds with realtors looking to lease these properties and the consensus is that there’s plenty of interest, but it’s unclear just how soon any of the key spots will be filled. In some cases the space is too big and in other cases there are limitations, such as that food establishments aren’t allowed.
“The retail world is beginning to show signs of improvement from an on the ground leasing perspective,” according to Paul Grossman, senior associate/retail leasing with CB Richard Ellis/Grossman Retail Advisors. “I think the Wellesley Central St market will continue to improve and be one of the first markets in Massachusetts to command a low retail vacancy rate again. Not only are the demographics at the top of list, but Central Street also draws from all of the surroundings towns. ”
Perhaps most notable among the empty storefronts in Wellesley is the old Kaps menswear spot at 54 Central St., which features 2,000 sq. ft. of storefront space plus another 900 sq. ft. basement space. It has been vacant since early 2009.
Mary Beth Grimm, with Prudential Town and Country Real Estate (website has more pictures of the former Kaps space) says she has had increased interest in the Kaps space — which she calls “a special location” in the heart of Wellesley Square and has shown it to several serious potential clients. Though Grimm notes there are challenges (the landlord won’t allow a restaurant). “There is a growing concern from the neighbors and residents that have called to inquire about the status of Kaps,” she adds. UPDATE: A real estate business announced plans to snap up the space in fall 2010.
Also on that stretch, Talbot’s Kids cleared out in 2008 and space is still available at 50 Central St.
Annette Born from Urban/Born Associates, which has the old Betsy’s site at 102 Central St. near the fire station in its portfolio, says: “There is activity, but some of the spaces are fairly large so finding the right creditworthy tenant takes time.” (The Betsy’s space has about 4,000 sq. ft about evenly split between street level and a lower/storage level.) UBA also has a listing for 67 Central St., where Clarks shoe store is located, noting that the space is available for lease as needed in that the current tenant will vacate.
Down the street near Milestone and Thunder is a vacant space at 15 Central St., which Bank of America left earlier this year. The rental rate for the 2,211 sq. ft. spot is “negotiable,” according to realtor CBRE-GRA’s website. Grossman says there is interest, and to expect a traditional retail use like another bank (no food establishment, though).
Also in the Square, Linear Retail’s Central Plaza properties (the Gap, Wellesley Booksmith etc stretch) includes several locations with expiring leases next year, though that doesn’t mean those businesses won’t re-up. The Booksmith was put up sale earlier this year by the owner and there has not been a taker yet. UPDATE: A local couple announced that they bought the Booksmith in Sept.
Newly empty is the 552 Washington St. space formerly occupied by College Square Pizza and the downstairs space recently vacated by Tails Doggie Boutique, both on the block where a Space for Lease sign hangs from Sullivan Co.
Stretching outside Wellesley Square out toward Wellesley Hills, there’s also the old St. Moritz Bike & Ski location at 475 Washington St., still looking for a new tenant to fill its 10,100 sq. ft. since the sporting goods store closed earlier this year. Terms there are negotiable, too, according to Equity Partners, which is also looking to lease property at Playhouse Square at 380 Washington St.
Dennis Di Schino, president of Equity Partners, says there’s been “considerable interest” in the former St. Moritz space, which boasts a rare combination of lots of space and 37 off-street parking spaces. “We have had interest from many different types of uses from retail to medical,” he says, noting the only thing the space can’t be used for is a restaurant.
West of Wellesley Square next to the former Wellesley Inn site, funeral home J.S. Waterman recently departed, leaving a 7,650 sq. ft property at 392 Washington St. It’ll cost you $23.50 per sq. ft. per year under a 5-year deal to secure that property from Northeast Select Properties, which promotes the “attractive interior finishes throughout” the 3-story building.
Also still looking for a tenant is 1 Crest Rd., vacated by Sweet Beads in January.
Before you know it, a replacement will be needed for Whole Foods in Wellesley Hills since that business is moving west into the old Star Market space.
Over in Linden Square, spaces have filled up pretty well over the past couple of years, though plenty of spots are still available, including next to Unleashed by Petco and several spots are available alongside Massage Envy.
If it makes you feel any better, at least we know Wellesley’s not alone in seeing a depressed real estate market. And like Grossman’s says, there’s a good chance our market will recover sooner than others.