Updated: Commercial real estate springs back in Route 40 area


The Route 40 corridor in New Castle County and adjacent areas of Maryland has seen a steady recovery after a difficult period. That’s good news for a Delaware business community that needs to see lower vacancy rates.

Retailing  has struggled in recent years as stores closed their doors in a difficult economy.  The opening of the Shoprite store at Governor’s Square provided a major boost. Earlier, Safeway had closed its store in the shopping center after reporting losses.

The grocery giant has struggled in northern Delaware after its ill-fated acquisition of Genuardi’s supermarkets. It converted Delaware stores to the Safeway name and now has two north of the canal.

Shoprite also did a top-to-bottom overhaul of the aging store site and added square footage.

The store was warmly received when it opened late last year. One big plus was local ownership of the store by the Kenny family, which has quietly built Shoprite into a solid rival of traditional No. 1 supermarket  Acme. Shoprite is now believed to hold the No. 2 slot in northern Delaware.

With Shoprite in operation, it did not take long until an Ashley Furniture store opened in a vacant space across the street.

Moving to the west, Wilmington College is nearing completion of a gym for its athletic complex. The Colonial-style building has added a touch of substance to the expanse of parking lots that characterize the retail side of the 40 corridor.

More substance can be found as a new office and headquarters takes shape for the Community Powered Federal Credit Union. Nearby, more medical offices have opened in the Becks Woods area and parking lots have been filled. Nearby, fast food burger and Mexican food spot, Hardees, has returned to northern Delaware

In the Fox Run Shopping Center at Route 72 and 40, one of the more quirky construction projects has involved a new branch for Bank of America.

The former site of a Taco Bell, the space later became a Mexican restaurant and eventually a barbecue joint.

The building was essentially stripped and completion is nearing on the branch as the bank continues its effort to become a bigger player in the Delaware retail and commercial market.

At the southeast end of the sprawling Fox Run complex, Plaza Tapatia has reopened after being  shuttered for a time.

It has been a struggle across the line in Cecil County, Md., although some progress  came  with the long-vacant former Walmart store being converted into medical offices.  The climate is less friendly for retailers, due to the lack of a sales tax in Delaware.The Glasgow area along Route 40 has been relatively quiet, with the exception of a new Royal Farms store, car wash and gas station. Also, National Tire and Battery, recently opened in store space that had been vacant since the closing of the West Auto-Parts Plus store closed. Route 40 remains a popular spot for auto-related businesses as consumers hold on to their vehicles longer.

The recovery of Ford Motor Co. has provided a boost along 40 with the Ramsey dealership occupying and sprucing up the former Advantage Chrysler dealership space across the highway.

Potentially big news was reported by the CecilDaily.com website with Hertrich, Delaware’s largest auto dealer group, looking at a site along 40 for a Chrysler dealership.

The Advantage dealership closed a few years ago, before the Chrysler bankruptcy resulted in the company paring down its dealership network.

Chrysler does have dealerships several miles away on Route 13 in New Castle and in Newark, but the company is on a roll and may be looking to gain market share in the region.

Despite the turnaround on 40, there is still plenty of retail and to some extent office space available.

Retailers have snapped up highly visible retail slots with good highway access. However plenty of smaller and less visible  spaces remain available. For example,  the  Eden Square Shopping Center recently saw the departure of Sheila’s Party World, which occupied a large space in the center near Routes 40 and 7.  Subway recently vacated a spot at the mostly filled strip center that is anchored by a Food Lion.

One major player to watch on Route 40 is DelleDonne and Associates, owner of the Governor’s Square.

With the opening of the Shoprite, there are relatively few vacancies in the sprawling shopping area.

DelleDonne does have a largely unoccupied tract across Route 7 from the shopping center. If a big box retailer is looking to build in the Route 40 area, that site would probably be the only option.

At the same time, other options remain available , including  the former  Borders store near Christiana Mall.

As the Wall Street Journal noted in a recent article, many Borders and other “big box” spaces remain vacant around the country. -Editor’s note: Doug Rainey has covered the real estate scene in northern Delaware for more than two decades.

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