City's retail vacancies wane

Foothill Boulevard is filling up again. After a few years of recession-induced vacancies along the boulevard, La Cañada Flintridge is welcoming the arrival of new businesses in 2011 that are bringing the Foothill vacancy rate down. With the recently opened MD Appliances, and with Sprouts Farmers Market and Jane’s Cakes opening later this year, the vacancy rate on Foothill is dropping.

According to Robert Stanley, the city’s director of community development, of the almost 300 units of non-residential property of Foothill Boulevard, the current vacancy rate has dropped below 10%. But when including properties that are in the permitting process or already are permitted but not completed, like the Sprouts market, the rate drops to around 6%.

A 6% vacancy rate would put La Cañada Flintridge in line with, or ahead of, the vacancy rates in neighboring cities such as Pasadena.

According to Eric Duyshart, Pasadena’s economic development manager, Pasadena officially tracks only office-space vacancy, which is at approximately 12%. But an unofficial estimate for retail vacancy right now is between 6% and 7%. Duyshart said that in healthier market conditions, retail vacancy usually sits at 4%.

“We have a couple kind of clusters of vacancies we don’t like to see, but overall it’s still relatively healthy,” said Duyshart.

Pat Anderson, president and chief executive of the La Cañada Flintridge Chamber of Commerce, said that the arrival of new businesses in the city is welcome after the recent economic troubles.

“Things have either been on a hold or they’ve been declining in 2010,” said Anderson. “But in 2011 we’ve seen it level off a little bit, and in fact, starting to pick up just a little bit.”

Anderson said that in addition to the overall impact of the slowly improving economy, La Cañada Flintridge is primed to welcome new business.

“Businesses really want to be here,” said Anderson. “If they can find the right space at the right price, then they’re probably feeling that now might be a good time to move.”

Doug Sanders, president of Sprouts Farmers Markets, said that La Cañada Flintridge is such an attractive location that Sprouts was looking to move there even before its merger with Henry’s markets, which purchased the former home of Sport Chalet in 2009.

“We have our core set of demographics that we look for, from income and propensity for natural foods, and competition, all those different metrics that go into making a really good site,” Sanders said. “Obviously the location is great, you’re right there on Foothill Boulevard, you’re in the middle of where the retail density is.”

Dan Deffenbaugh, owner of MD Appliances, said that after five years in Pasadena, he started looking for a new location a couple years ago. Having had experience working with designers, architects and builders in La Cañada Flintridge, Deffenbaugh said he knew it was the right city for him to set up shop.

“We moved over here because I’ve done business in the community for over 30 years and it’s just a great family-oriented type community that we really like,” said Deffenbaugh. “Obviously Foothill is kind of the coveted spot to be if you want a good storefront, good parking.”

Anderson, who serves on the chamber’s Business Support and Development Committee, said the chamber has made it a priority to make it easier for businesses to get established in the city.

“We’re just working with the city on making it easier for a business to get their permits, and easier for a business to get their business license,” said Anderson.

According to Sanders, these efforts seem to be working.

“Permits came along well, the entire process went pretty smoothly, said Sanders. “And it seemed like dealing with the people from the city that we dealt with, they were pretty excited for Sprouts to go into that location.”

Deffenbaugh, too, said the permitting process had been easy, with only his permanent signage permit outstanding, and that Anderson had helped him coordinate with the city when he forgot to secure his business license during the move.

Still, Anderson said she thinks that these businesses are just the beginning.

“And I think as the economy gets better — and of course I think next year’s going to be even stronger than this year — I think we’re going to see our vacancy rate continue to drop,” Anderson said.

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