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Circuit City closure leaves the Walk on shaky footing

Customers try to grab a few final deals Monday at Circuit City at the Walk. This store will close as soon as it runs out of merchandise.

BRIAN CASSELLA | Times\uFEFF

Customers try to grab a few final deals Monday at Circuit City at the Walk. This store will close as soon as it runs out of merchandise.

NEW TAMPA — When Linens 'n Things and Circuit City opened at the Walk in Highwoods Preserve in 2001, developers described the first few months as going "exceptionally well."

With a prime location along busy Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, the shopping plaza became a popular stop in this affluent community.

Today — eight years and a crumbling economy later — the strip center is about to look like a ghost town.

Corporate bankruptcies have forced both these big box giants to go into liquidation, just a few months after Bennigan's, another tenant at the Walk, locked its doors.

Circuit City has become the largest retailer to fall victim to the expanding financial crisis. After attempts to sell the business failed, the company announced last week that it will shut down its remaining 567 stores nationwide at the cost of 34,000 more jobs.

Barbara Schlappig, owner of Salon at the Walk, located next to Circuit City, said she worried about how the closings will affect business.

Traffic was at high volume and parking spaces were scarce because of all the bargain-hunters this week, but what will happen after everything is sold and the Circuit City sign is taken off the building?

"You get concerned when anybody closes," Schlappig said. "It just doesn't look right."

Schlappig said the property has changed management companies several times. It is currently being managed by Developers Diversified Realty, a company based in Ohio. No one from Developers Diversified Realty was available for comment early this week.

According to the company's Web site, the Walk is a 150,529-square-foot community center.

More than 94,046 people with an average household income of $82,976 live within a 5-mile radius, it states.

Michaels, the arts and crafts store, is the one remaining anchor for about two dozen other tenants, including a Subway, a pediatrician's office, a bike shop and a Panera Bread.

Listening to the sound of car engines zooming past each day, it's odd to find a once-bustling center reduced to a strip of small shops with a single anchor, residents said.

"I feel bad for the shopping center," said Barbara Franklin, of Pebble Creek. "With the economy the way it is, I can't say that I'm surprised."

Franklin and her husband, Stan, were among a steady stream of shoppers earlier this week who stopped in at Circuit City to look for liquidation deals.

Signs along Bruce B. Downs Boulevard said items were discounted up to 30 percent.

It was a familiar trip for the Franklins, who weeks earlier browsed the barren aisles at Linens 'n Things next door as it sold remaining merchandise to pay creditors.

"Hopefully a Kohl's or a similar department store will move in here," Franklin said.

Scott Hileman of Nye Commercial Advisors, who specializes in land brokerage and development, said with a lot of retailers pulling back, the closings are "just a reflection of the economy."

He predicts the other business will survive.

"Obviously, everybody kind of relies on those anchor tenants to pull in traffic," he said. "The smaller tenants will be okay. Most of them have a pretty good presence in this market anyway. They'll be able to fill that space really quick."

Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813)909-4613 or nguyen@sptimes.com.

At a glance

Who's left?

•The Walk opened in 2001 with Circuit City, Linens 'n Things, Panera Bread, Bennigan's and others. Michaels opened in 2002.

•Bennigan's eateries all over the country shut their doors in July 2008. Linens 'n Things liquidated its store and closed last month. Circuit City will close after everything is sold.

•Some eateries that remain in the plaza, located at Highwoods Preserve Parkway and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, include Panera Bread, Dunkin' Donuts, Subway and Ho King.

Circuit City closure leaves the Walk on shaky footing 01/22/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 22, 2009 12:29pm]
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