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The Commons uncommon in this economy

Most of shopping center's anchor stores to open in next 45 days

Most of shopping center's anchor stores to open in next 45 days

July 11, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. -- In today's depressed economic climate, The Commons shopping center off Interstate 81 near Martinsburg is proving to be anything but commonplace.

In a robust economy, the commercial venture off Exit 12 would be a very good, albeit typical project, according to developer John Abernathy of AIG Baker Development LLC.

"In this economy, it's an amazing development," Abernathy said in an interview after the first store -- Bed Bath & Beyond -- opened last week in the sprawling 45-acre retail center off Apple Harvest Drive.

Within the next 30 to 45 days, all but one of the anchor stores -- Staples -- is expected to open. Abernathy expects a strip of 15 to 20 small retail spaces will be leased by the end of the year.

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The developer expects to finish its work on the entire project by Aug. 1, if not earlier, but individual stores still will have interior work to complete before they open, Abernathy said.

Target, the development's largest anchor, has announced it will have its grand opening July 26. A sign posted in the Michaels arts and craft store announces it will open the same day.

PetSmart is slated to open July 25.

A spokeswoman for Five Below, a Philadelphia-based discount retailer, has said the company was targeting a mid-August opening.

Other stores slated to open in the shopping center are Best Buy, Books-A-Million, Dick's Sporting Goods and T.J. Maxx.

"A lot of these retailers are still doing really well," Abernathy said.

At Bed Bath & Beyond on Wednesday, customers such as Kerry Stenger of Martinsburg were excited about the shopping center's opening.

"I have two little boys that are transitioning into 'big-boy' bedrooms with full-size beds," Stenger said. "They always have such great variety here."

In addition to 100 percent occupancy of the anchor store spaces, Abernathy said he was particularly encouraged by the number of tenants that have signed leases in the small commercial strip, given the economy.

Abernathy doubted there was another project like The Commons under way in the area, and acknowledged "this one got in under the wire."

The Berkeley County Planning Commission initially reviewed preliminary plans in the fall of 2007, when the collapse of the housing market was becoming evident.

Abernathy indicated the project likely would not have been possible without Target's investment.

The total investment is estimated to be about $80 million or more, and officials have projected more than 1,000 jobs will be created by the retail center.

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