CLEARWATER — Two big box stores along U.S. 19 that have been empty for a few years finally will see new occupants this summer.
Ashley Furniture HomeStore opens Friday in a former Circuit City store at 24244 U.S. 19 in Clearwater, just north of Sunset Point Road. The store has been empty since 2009.
Just 2 miles up the highway, Dick's Sporting Goods plans to open in August in a former Albertsons supermarket across Countryside Boulevard from Westfield Countryside mall, city officials said. The store sells athletic and outdoor gear and apparel from more than 300 stores nationwide.
"I think it's a testament to the economic viability of the areas they're moving into," Clearwater Planning and Development Director Michael Delk said. "There's been a fair amount of impact from the roadway construction, so it's nice to see new retailers moving into that area."
Both retailers are nationwide chains with other stores in Florida, though this will be Dick's Sporting Goods' first foray into Pinellas County. The sports retail store also has locations in Tampa, Brandon and Wesley Chapel.
The new Ashley Furniture store joins a location in Pinellas Park, as well as stores in Brandon and Wesley Chapel. It will celebrate its grand opening in Clearwater with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. Friday.
Although some businesses have been negatively impacted by major construction on U.S. 19, the environment is now more stable, Delk said. Rent and land prices have fallen, encouraging businesses to reoccupy empty buildings.
"Big box retailers and users have the advantage now in terms of the marketplace," he said.
Large retailers like Ashley Furniture and Dick's Sporting Goods are seeing the slow economy as an opportunity to capture a large share of the market, said Bob Clifford, president of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce.
"It's a great opportunity for a lot of these companies who have weathered the financial woes of the past few years," Clifford said, adding that the local population still needs furniture and sports supplies.
Clifford said he is excited about the economic development occurring in the U.S. 19 corridor, which also includes a Cobb movie theater slated to open at Countryside mall in spring 2012.
The city also has seen growth in other areas, Clifford said, citing the development of hotels in downtown Clearwater and Clearwater Beach. Delk noted that a new Starbucks Coffee and a Hooters restaurant are planned for Clearwater Beach.
"There's widespread development throughout Clearwater. Would we like to have more? Certainly," Clifford said. "But . . . I think we're seeing some significant movement in the economy upward, and possibly the light at the end of the tunnel now."
Katie Park can be contacted at (727) 445-4154 or firstname.lastname@example.org.