LifeWay Christian Store in Epps Bridge Centre currently is holding a going-out-of-business sale and will be the third store in the Oconee County shopping center to close this year.
Gap closed in January, and Kinnucan’s last month.
The second phase of Epps Bridge Centre–across the Oconee Connector from the initial phase--has only one tenant, Hobby Lobby.
Much speculation has centered on Costco as a tenant for that second phase, but Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell said last month that Costco isn’t coming to the county any time soon.
The local retail market is reflecting major national trends.
LifeWay is closing all its stores to move entirely to online stores, Gap is closing stores nationwide and restructuring, and Kinnucan’s has withdrawn to its original home market.
The most recent jobs report from the U.S. Department of Labor, while overwhelmingly positive, showed three straight months of declines in employment in retail.
Oconee County Finance Director Wes Geddings last month presented a county budget that projected revenue growth from local sales tax of only 3 percent in the next fiscal year, compared with 5 percent growth in revenue from the county’s property tax based on a flat tax rate.
“LifeWay Christian Resources is charting a new course in 2019 marking a strategic shift of resources to a dynamic digital strategy,” the Nashville company said in a news release in March. “As part of the transition, LifeWay will close its 170 brick-and-mortar stores in 2019.”
LifeWay offers Bibles, books, Scripture reference tools, Bible studies, children’s products, Christian music and movies, gifts and church supplies.
The timing of store closings will vary depending on local circumstances, according to the news release. LifeWay expects all brick-and-mortar stores to close by the end of the year.
A clerk in the store told me on Friday she expected the Epps Bridge Centre store to be closed by the end of the month or early June.
In one month, LifeWay interacts with five times as many people through its digital environments as it does through LifeWay stores, the news release said.
Gap And Kinnucan’s
LifeWay, Gap and Kinnucan’s all are or were part of the central core of small shops in Epps Bridge Centre.
|Gap Was Here|
Gap, a clothing retailer that previously had been at Georgia Square Mall, was one of the original tenants when the shopping center opened in 2013.
According to a Feb. 28 news release, Gap Inc., headquartered in San Francisco, plans to restructure what it calls the Gap brand “specialty fleet and revitalize brand health” in 2019.
Old Navy, which has a store in Epps Bridge Centre next door to space formerly occupied by Gap, will be spun off as a separate company as part of the restructuring.
The restructuring calls for the closing of 230 stores in the group, which also includes Banana Republic, another neighbor to Old Navy in Epps Bridge Centre.
Kinnucan’s web site lists six stores but indicates that those in Athens (Epps Bridge Centre), Alpharetta, Montgomery and Columbus are closed, leaving only stores in Opelika, near Auburn, and Auburn, open.
The company, a speciality outfitter, originated in Auburn.
A sign on the front door of the Epps Bridge Centre store on Friday said the company had been in Athens for 14 years. It moved to Epps Bridge Centre from Alps Bridge Road in Athens.
The Bishop Company
The Bishop Company, developer of the original Epps Bridge Centre, now referred to as Phase 1, and the planned Phase II and Phase III across the Oconee Connector, lists the space previously occupied by Gap as available. The Gap sign on the storefront has been removed.
The Atlanta Company is proposing that the 8,049 square feet of space occupied by Gap be divided into two parcels, a 4,059 square foot “Restaurant Endcap with Patio Space,” and a 4,000 square foot interior space.
Diablo's Southwest Grill shares the patio space.
The Kinnecun’s store is 10,800 square feet in size, and the LifeWay store is 4,696 square feet in space, according to the company tenant roster.
Neither space is yet listed as available on the web site. All other space is the shopping complex is occupied.
Five of the original 12 outparcels in Phase 1 are occupied.
Frank Bishop Response
Frank Bishop, owner of The Bishop company, told me in a telephone conversation today that he already has companies interested in the space formerly occupied by Gap.
|Closed In April|
"In the big picture, what we are seeing is that consumer preferences are changing," Bishop said. Retail store closings are taking place when the companies fail to adjust, he added.
Retail companies are having trouble if they fail to adapt to the market, have bad real estate, or are heavily in debt, according to Bishop.
"Successful business are the ones that are embracing the Internet and refreshing their brands," Bishop said.
When LifeWay closes, Epps Bridge Centre still will have 94 percent occupancy, Bishop said, "which is a healthy number for a shopping center."
Bishop said his company is careful in selecting tenants to create the right mix.
Epps Bridge Centre is "a healthy shopping center and we want to keep it that way," he said.
Phase II, between Parkway Boulevard and Plaza Parkway, is graded, with the front portion ready for development.
Hobby Lobby is the sole tenant at present, having moved from its Atlanta Highway location.
The marketing flier for Phase II and Phase III shows a future “Anchor” in a building of 146,290 square feet. Also shown is space for a fuel station
“Is there a Costco coming to Oconee County?” one of the citizens at last month’s Town Hall meeting asked the commissioners. Costco, based in Issaquah, Wash., operates wholesale club stores.
“Let’s just say, Augusta Georgia got a Costco. It cost them a 10 to 12 million dollar investment,” Commission Chair Daniell said.
“Right now, nobody sitting up here feels very strongly about possessing that much money to bring a Costco in.
“So it’s going to be their decision when they come,” Daniell continued. “If the market is not ready, its’ not ready, but it will be at some point.”
Phase III, across Parkway Boulevard from Hobby Lobby, has not yet been cleared and graded for development.
Bureau Of Labor Statistics
The April jobs report from the U.S. Department of Labor contained much good news, with the unemployment rate dropping to 3.6 percent, its lowest level in 50 years.
|U.S. Bureau Of Labor Statistics|
Number Of Retail Employees
January 2009 To April 2019
News for the retail trade sector of the labor market, however, was not so good.
In January, the sector had employed 15,830,300 persons.
That number dropped each month since, to 15,788,900 in April. The figures are seasonally adjusted.
Wages did increase during that time period. For production and nonsupervisory employees, the average hourly earnings increased from $16.21 to $16.51.
These data, and the chart above, come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics website.
Local Option Sales Tax
The county’s 1 percent Local Option Sales Tax is projected to produce $7,033,000 in Fiscal Year 2019-2020, or 23.2 percent of the total $30,323,670 in revenue for the General Fund, according to figures Finance Director Geddings released at the Board of Commissioners budget hearing on April 23.
Geddings had budgeted $6,825,226 in Local Option Sales Tax revenue for the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30.
The 3.0 percent growth rate in projected revenue from the Local Option Sales Tax in Fiscal Year 2019-2020 compared with a 5.0 percent growth rate in property tax revenue, according to the sheets Geddings released at that meeting.
An analysis of actual distributions from the Georgia Department of Revenue suggests Geddings’ estimates are conservative ones.
While revenue from the Local Option Sales Tax decreased from Fiscal Year 2016 to 2017 by a tenth of a percent, it grew from fiscal Year 2017 to fiscal Year 2018 by 7.7 percent.
For the first 10 months of Fiscal Year 2019, Local Option Sales Tax revenue is up 10.7 percent over the first 10 months of Fiscal Year 2018.
By the end of April, the county had collected $5.8 million for the local sales tax, according to those figures.
The Augusta Costco was a given a $10 million over a number of years from a percentage of sales tax revenue that it generates. It's not like the county was out the money. We need a Costco, and if the price of getting a Costco is that county only gets 25% of the tax it generates for a few years, that's fine by me. Better than driving to Duluth and the money going there.
The inevitable shakeout will pick up speed.
When Epps Bridge Center was first envisioned, the explosion of on-line shopping was not well considered.
A hint was present in the difficulty in selling Gateway.
When Daniell tossed out the Economic Development Director , I guess to do the job himself, we lost any semblance of a true possibility the county will bring in quality businesses.
How much more can we lose with Daniell steering the boat over the waterfalls of Lake Do Nothing. His business mind peaked with firing half the staff and getting a commissioner’s kid a bonus of a $100,000 for said company.
Costco has the road, Infrastructure, and traffic light is in place. We don’t have a skilled market/sales individual that could nail down the deal.
The future holds little for the graduating class of 2019 here in Oconee. The best and the brightest will be gone.
Looks like the financial wizards of our BOC missed this one. It is the death of retail. County will look great will lots of empty buildings.
They could have diversified with businesses. And technology. Oh no, They couldn’t hire people with a strong financial or science background. What a loss of a good county.
Read the numbers and then read the message on the wall.
Our present elected officials only consider the next fast food joint -Oconee will not have an uptick in anything. They do not have the drive or the vision to advance our county, balancing the beauty of its rural setting with conveniences.
It’s the messenger. The BOC does not have a clue how to develop the county for the 21st Century.
There have been many articles written about the demise of the brick and mortar stores in favor of online shopping. Epps Bridge Center was overbuilt, and the stores that it contains aren't the quality of stores that would have been preferred for the area. The same can be said of the restaurants. Having been out there recently, I was also concerned about safety. Despite all of the land that is still available in the Epps Bridge Center area, how insulting to the residents of the Mars Hill Rd. area to allow a Mercedes dealership to be built in their backyards. To add insult to injury, it seems ridiculous that the BOC would approve a large gas station/truck stop/unknown grocery chain/Burger King across from the large Race Trac on the Monroe Highway! Oconee County, to be one of the most desirable places in Georgia to move to, has one of the most disorganized development plans I have ever seen. The only place that seems to be protected is in the southern part of the county. Of the 5 members of the BOC, I can find only one who lives in North Oconee, which gives credence to the idea of not messing in one's own nest.
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