August is turning into a month of new retail business in north Bellingham.
At Sports Authority, which opened Aug. 2 at Bellis Fair Mall, the annual “back to school” shopping frenzy is contributing to strong initial sales, said Jeff Robertson, the store’s manager. But the late-summer sun is another, perhaps larger, business booster.
“[Our] outdoors area is doing really well with the weather being the way it is,” Robertson said.
Several large-scale stores in the busy commercial areas around Meridian Street have recently opened or plan to open soon. And several others are expected to move in over the next few months.
WinCo Foods, the discount grocer that operates more than 80 stores in the western U.S., is preparing for a mid-August opening in the former location of Joe’s Sporting Goods at 300 E. Bellis Fair Parkway.
Nearby, Carpet Liquidators is remodeling a nearly 20,000-square-foot location that was once home to a Good Guys electronics store. The carpet and flooring retailer has five locations in the Puget Sound area.
Its future building on Meridian Street has been mostly empty since the California-based Good Guys chain closed its Bellingham store in 2005, several years after the company was purchased by CompUSA and eventually phased out entirely.
A few blocks to the south, preliminary building permits were submitted in July for a new Sears Hometown Store in a currently vacant building at 3548 Meridian St., across the street from the Bellingham Golf and Country Club and next to Whatcom Farmers Co-Op’s Bellingham Country Store.
That building has not had a year-round tenant for several years. In the past, it has been home to a furniture store and the original location of Bellingham’s Michaels arts and crafts store, before Michaels moved to the north end of Meridian Street about a decade ago.
A company spokesperson confirmed Sears Hometown Store’s plans for a future Bellingham location. But with the development still in its initial stages, further details, including an expected opening date, are not yet known.
Sears Hometown Stores, which are spinoffs of the full-line Sears department stores and operate separately from Sears Holdings Co., focus on smaller specialty markets and retail merchandise including hardware, appliances and lawn-and-garden supplies.
County’s retail growth continues
The arrival of new stores around Meridian Street comes as Bellingham and Whatcom County continue to post strong retail numbers, according to the latest statistics from the Washington State Department of Revenue.
Whatcom County had total retail sales of more than $757 million in the first business quarter of 2013, according to the Department of Revenue—a 5.72 percent from sales during the first quarter of 2012.
Sales in the county’s retail-trade sector, a subset that focuses on goods and excludes industries such as construction, wholesale trade and services, rose 8.1 percent to more than $373 million in the first quarter of 2013.
Bellingham, which carries the bulk of overall sales for the county, posted more than $501 million in total retail sales during the first quarter of 2013. That’s up 5.83 percent from the year before.
The retail-trade sector in Bellingham also increased by 7.81 percent to more than $285 million.
Outside the county’s population and commercial core, Whatcom’s border towns are maintaining strong retail growth as well, according to the Department of Revenue statistics.
Sumas has the greatest year-over-year growth rates out of all locales in the county.
The town, with a population of about 1,300 people, saw total retail sales increase by 21.37 percent to more than $5.6 million in the first quarter of 2013. Sumas’ retail-trade subset rose by 36.68 percent to more than $3.4 million.
Blaine also had a first-quarter increase of 18.2 percent in its retail-trade sector.
Among specific retail-trade industries in Whatcom County, general merchandise stores brought in the most money, with more than $69 million in sales in the first quarter of 2013, according to the Department of Revenue. New and used cars and auto parts followed, posting a little more than $61 million in sales.
Testing a new format
The new Sports Authority in Bellis Fair Mall utilizes a store layout the Englewood, Colo.-based company adopted in 2012, and has since been rolling out in several of its new and existing locations.
Meant to be more intuitive for customers, the layout groups merchandise based on sports or activities instead of specific products. All equipment and apparel related to football, for example, can be found in the same general area of the store, instead of having separate sections used to display footwear, clothing or gear.
“The store is just set up in a different way that’s easier for customers to navigate,” said Patricia Jimenez, a company spokesperson.
Jeff Robertson said the layout is designed to help customers find items for specific sports and activities without having to make several laps around the store.
Bellingham’s Sports Authority takes up 48,000 square feet of a nearly 80,000-square-foot retail space once home to a full-line Sears department store, which closed in January after liquidating its stock. Robertson said several customers have already commented on the sheer size of the new store.
Sports Authority also owns the unoccupied area of the space, which is divided into two sections. The company plans to eventually sublease those to other businesses, Robertson said.
The Bellingham location currently employs 50 people, Robertson said. The majority of its staff are part-time sales associates, he added. Many are local college students.
The store focuses its retail operation on team sports equipment and apparel, with footwear as a major component, Robertson said.
Sports Authority also sells equipment for water sports and camping. It has an equipment repair department, which works on bikes, skis and snowboards. It rents out skis and snowboards, as well.
The store will also start selling fishing licenses within the next few weeks, Robertson said. Yet it has no plans to stock fishing or hunting gear.
Robertson said there are already plenty of other stores in the area that sell that type of merchandise, and cutting them out allows more floor space for other products.
A new mall anchor
Jean Marohn, marketing coordinator for Bellis Fair Mall, said mall management was excited to have Sports Authority take over the anchor space vacated by Sears seven months ago. With the popularity of sports and outdoor activities in Whatcom County, the new addition should be a good fit, she said.
Other changes are underway at Bellis Fair.
The mall is in the middle of its first major remodel in 10 years. Renovations to the 773,000-square-foot mall, which is owned by General Growth Properties, include new main entrances, signage, flooring, public restrooms and children’s play area.
The food court is also getting a facelift, which includes a new fireplace and a wall of television monitors.
Culp Construction Co., which has main offices in Utah and California, is the project’s contractor.
The mall last underwent major renovation in 2003, when upgrades were made to the facility’s lighting, paint, signs and seating areas.
Marohn said the new restrooms and children’s play area just opened to mall shoppers, and work is beginning on the food court additions.
The remodeling is on track to be complete by Nov. 22, she said, just before the holiday shopping season picks up.
Evan Marczynski, staff reporter for The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whatcom County retail sales, Q1 2013
Total retail sales: $757,058,714 (up 5.72 percent compared to Q1 2012)
Retail-trade subset: $373,591,155 (up 8.1 percent)
Total retail sales: $501,901,972 (up 5.83 percent)
Retail-trade subset: 285,193,753 (up 7.81 percent)
Total retail sales: $28,669,781 (up 5.78 percent)
Retail-trade subset: $12,495,103 (up 18.2 percent)
Total retail sales: $4,889,302 (up 6.5 percent)
Retail-trade subset: $1,730,423 (up 4.07 percent)
Total retail sales: $37,388,347 (up 3.87 percent)
Retail-trade subset: $14,242,686 (up 4.32 percent)
Total retail sales: $45,355,592 (up 2.53 percent)
Retail-trade subset: $19,323,955 (down 1.57 percent)
Total retail sales: $1,605,999 (up 0.89 percent)
Retail-trade subset: $794,467 (up 8.65 percent)
Total retail sales: $5,602,489 (up 21.37 percent)
Retail-trade subset: $3,442,631 (up 36.68 percent)
Total retail sales: $17,646,205 (up 47.44 percent)
Retail-trade subset: $4,524,192 (up 9.48 percent)
Source: Washington State Department of Revenue