By Carolyn Shapiro The Virginian-Pilot May 6, 2012 NORFOLK Rows of books stand clean and free of dust on white shelves thatgleam under bright lights. New faux-wood floors squeak under shoes. The walls boast a neonshade of green. Bargain Books opened three weeks ago on 21st Street - its first newlocation after greeting customers for 35 years from the same plazain the Wards Corner area. |
The fresh space allowed a refurbishingthat the old store, after decades of accumulated inventory andclutter, couldn't have accomplished without a major hassle. Still, owner Lynn Howard said Bargain Books probably would havestayed where it was if her landlord wasn't planning to tear downthe strip mall at Granby Street and East Little Creek Road to makeway for a new Harris Teeter supermarket. The demolition andoverhaul, scheduled to begin this summer, is displacing about 20businesses. The forced move, however, hasn't necessarily devastated thosetenants, most of them locally owned retailers and restaurants.Several have closed, but nine have signs on their old windowslisting new locations - most still in Norfolk. "It felt like home, because it had been there so long,"Howard said of the Wards Corner site, soon to be known as SuburbanPark Shopping Center.
"I would have stayed if I could have, just because I hatechange," she added, while enjoying the sunshine outside hernew location, "but I am feeling positive about thisplace." Ben Cooper Jewelers has no sign announcing its move, but ownerMichael Mitchell leased space in the plaza at the northwest cornerof the intersection, kitty-corner to his current location. Evenbefore he had signed the papers, his new landlord installed theair-conditioning upgrade he requested, giving him hope about theplace, he said. "It's exciting and scary," Mitchell said. "Peopleknow you're here. They're used to driving up here.
It's, like,automatic. We're going to have to train our customers to go to anew location." Mitchell had planned to renovate his shop, which has a sisterlocation in Chesapeake, and already had pulled out the tracklighting. "My other store is really nice, and I wanted thesame look for this store." The upcoming site gives him 50 percent more space to create theshowroom he wants. So the demolition of the old property, he said,pushed him in a direction he needed to go.
"You can't hold onto the past," Mitchell said, recallingthe toy store, travel agency, sporting goods dealer and movietheater that had come and gone over the plaza's nearly 70-yearlifetime. "I went to see my first movie at age 11 here." For Chris Perry, owner of the property and development companySuburban Asset Management, progress requires moving out the old.The new Suburban Park center will have room for eight to 12 otherretailers besides the supermarket, including some restaurants or acoffee shop and a mix of local owners and national chains, he said. Whether any previous tenants will return, he wasn't sure. He hasmade no commitments, he said. "I would want the brightest, shiniest, best, newest (stores)next to that new Harris Teeter," said H.
Blount Hunter, aretail and real estate consultant based in Norfolk. Longtime bookstores and outdated dining rooms don't fit thatprofile, he added. The most recent crop of tenants were a"fairly fragile" group of neighborhood shops that limitedhow much Perry could improve the property or charge in rent, Huntersaid. "His model is bound to go into more of a traditional,investment-grade shopping center than it has been for the last 20years," he said. Naresh Pandya would like to bring back his Subway sandwichfranchise once the dust settles around the new supermarket.
Beforeclosing last week, he had trouble finding a nearby landlord tooffer him an affordable, short-term lease, and he can't locate in acorridor with an existing franchise. Now, he plans to get anotherjob. "We'll just wait for reconstruction," Pandya saidWednesday, just after he locked his restaurant's door for good. Ashe talked, a half-dozen customers wandered up and expressed dismayat the darkened shop. "Customers feel bad," the ownersaid.
"That's why we're upset." Perry has reason himself to feel nostalgic about the changes. Hisgrandfather, a barber by trade, bought the center in the 1940s. As a child, Perry regularly visited the family's discount store,K&K 5&10. That grew into what is now the 4,350-store DollarTree chain that his father, Doug Perry, helped launch with thefirst store of that name opening on the property in 1986.
"We've been taking him here since he was a baby," DougPerry's wife, Pat, said of their son after a presentation nine daysago announcing the Harris Teeter project. The developer's parentssaid they have no qualms about him razing the site of so muchfamily history. "Life goes on," Doug Perry said, "and you have tochange." In the corner of the plaza, the red-and-white sign that hung overthe 15 Barbers shop when the Perrys bought the property remainstoday - though it's now dark and empty inside. One of the lastthree remaining barbers retired at age 81, and the other two foundnew jobs at Kustom Cutz on Hampton Boulevard near Norfolk NavalStation. "I worked there for two years, and I'm like a Wards Cornerhistorian," said Grover "Vinney" Vines Jr., whoheard story after story about the neighborhood's heyday from theold-timers who sat in his chair.
He and his son, also a barber, have kept many of their formercustomers. Vines also returns to the housing complex near the oldshop to take care of clients in their homes. "The community came to that shop," Vines said. "Mostof them walked." The barbers, though, now have an opportunity to build an evenbigger business. Older guys need haircuts maybe once every coupleof months, but young military men with short cuts get trims moreoften.
"I haven't made a bad move yet," said Vines, who took thejob at 15 Barbers after cutting hair on the Navy base for eightyears. "So now that I'm over here, I'll pick up more goodcustomers." Howard, too, sees a chance to grow her audience of readers. BargainBooks' sales have dropped since the reopening, she said, but shesuspects the move put her at a temporary disadvantage, whilecustomers find the new location. It was a stroke of retail fate that she found the new space.
At theold store, she was telling a customer about the pending demolitionwhen another shopper overheard, told her of the vacancy and gaveher contact information for the building where she moved. "I want this to work. I need this to work," said Howard,who kept her full-time job at the Marine Corps Exchange and comesinto the store in the evening. "If this works, I'm not goingto stop until they carry me out." Carolyn Shapiro, 757-446-2270, email@example.com.
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