Food and shopping options expand in West Lebanon plazas

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 05-13-2024 5:30 PM

WEST LEBANON — Spring is here and the Route 12A shopping plazas will be blooming with new retail businesses.

Cold Stone Creamery and Planet Smoothie are in the works to open at Powerhouse Plaza, the latest national chains to stake out space along the busy Route 12A shopping corridor after years of legacy household name stores closing.

The franchises will be joined by a new Asian restaurant, Happy Dumpling. All the businesses will be filling vacant retail space that was formerly occupied by a New Hampshire Liquor and Wine Outlet before it moved to the south end of the shopping strip.

And Pearce Jewelers, which has been a mainstay West Lebanon business for 38 years, is planning to move next to Target, taking the last vacant retail space in what formerly was called Kmart Plaza but now simply goes by “200.”

The “dual concept” Cold Stone Creamery and Planet Smoothie — both chains are owned by giant Canadian franchiser MTY Group — along with Happy Dumpling are targeted to open “late summer to early fall,” said Josh Durell, director of brokerage with Newton, Mass.-based Blackline Retail Group, the leasing agent for Powerhouse Plaza.

Both leases will join other recent Route 12A food arrivals: Taste, which the owners of Ziggy’s Pizza opened last June, and submarine sandwich franchise Jersey Mike’s, which opened last November.

Blackline has been working to subdivide the former New Hampshire Liquor space into smaller units to attract tenants. Last year it brought in Brown Furniture-owned mattress store America’s Mattress from its former location on Interchange Drive.

That will leave only a single, 4,136-square-foot retail space left to lease at Powerhouse Plaza, one of few remaining spots along Route 12A. After years of stagnation and stores closing empty shops appear to be filling up again. (The other major vacant space, the former JCPenney store in Upper Valley Plaza, is often the subject of social media rumors but nothing has been confirmed.)

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“I’m hopeful we can have someone in there by the end of the year,” Durell said of Powerhouse Plaza’s last vacant space.

Like shopping centers everywhere these days, the retail businesses filling Route 12A plazas are mostly chain stores and franchises, or “brands” in the parlance of the franchise industry.

Also coming to the Upper Valley Plaza is Planet Fitness, in the former Sears’ space, and J.Crew Factory, in the former Maurices’ space. They follow Target and apparel store Sierra, which went into the former Kmart space in 2021. They were followed by a Barnes and Noble bookstore that opened last year in the space formerly occupied by Party City.

As consumers switched to online shopping, once prominent brick-and-mortar retailers such as Sears, JCPenney and Kmart all closed in West Lebanon, victims of what became dubbed the “retail apocalypse.”

But Blackline’s Durell, the leasing agent, said the weight of tenants at shopping centers is shifting to dining, entertainment, medical and “service” providers, and Route 12A remains a magnet, drawing consumers from the Upper Valley and beyond.

“Route 12A is a very strong retail market. People drive 40 minutes to come to West Lebanon to shop. The retail rents along 12A are as high as some of the suburban markets outside of Boston that have three times the population,” he said.

One exception to the franchise emergence along Route 12A is Pearce Jewelers, an independent West Lebanon business that has operated from its Glen Road location since 1993, when former owners, Fred and Kate Pearce, moved their jewelry design studio from Powerhouse Mall to their own building across the street.

Pearce Jewelers, owned by the mother-and-daughter team of Lori Roy and Jordan Schucart since 2017, will now occupy the currently vacant 3,484 square feet of store space at the south end of the Target shopping plaza, according to the building permit application on file with the city. The estimated cost of fitting out the space is $500,000.

Roy and Schucart had also run Jozach Jewelers in Claremont until it closed in 2020. Roy had been the manager at Pearce before she opened Jozach in 2015.

The Cold Stone Creamery and Planet Smoothie franchise is owned by a Quechee couple, he said, who were not immediately available for comment on Friday.

But Michael Liu, who with his wife, Jaycee Yu, will be opening Happy Dumpling, said Route 12A’s location at the I-89 and I-91 interchange, and its vicinity to students at Dartmouth College and workers at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, were key factors in the Weston, Mass., couple choosing West Lebanon for their first restaurant.

Liu said his wife comes from a restaurant family in China and is designing a “fast food” menu that will emphasize dumplings and noodles, and offer bubble teas. They plan to provide both sit-down and to-go dining options.

“Like 5 Guys,” he said.

Durell, a 2002 graduate of Lebanon High School who went on to college at UNH and whose parents still live in the Seminary Hill area, said he still has buddies in Lebanon and they have their preferences as to what they would like to see to go into the remaining vacant retail space at Powerhouse Plaza.

“All my friends want me to try to get a golf simulator in there,” he said, adding that it could also include dining and bar.

Still, the economics of indoor entertainment simulators, which put people in the experience of playing sports, racing cars or flying jet fighters in real time by combining virtual reality technology with motion sensors, is daunting.

“Each of those (golf) simulators cost $15,000 to $20,000 and you need to get five or six of them in there,” he said, adding “I’ve cold-called a bunch throughout Southern New Hampshire and Massachusetts and haven’t hit one yet.”

But even if he isn’t able to land the golf simulator, “I’m confident we’ll get something cool to go into the last space,” Durell said.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.