A.J. Wright, one of two anchor tenants in the Fields Corner shopping mall on Geneva Avenue, will close its doors next month as part of a national consolidation plan. But disappointment over the shut-down will be short-lived: The location will re-open as a HomeGoods store in April.
Executives from TJX, the Framingham-based retail company that owns both chains, announced their plans to convert 91 A.J. Wright stores — including the Dorchester location— last month. This week, the company confirmed that it intends to re-purpose the store as a HomeGoods, which specializes in home furnishings and giftware.
“At this time, the Company anticipates converting the A.J. Wright store located in Field’s Corner, 500 Geneva Avenue in Dorchester, into a HomeGoods store,” said Doreen Thompson, vice president of corporate communications at TJX. “The estimated opening date is early April, 2011.”
The shopping mall, owned by Fields Station, LLC, a holding company managed by Thomas Cifrino, is one of the neighborhood’s largest and most important commercial centers — with some 239,000 square feet of retail space and parking valued at more than $6.7 million in 2010, according to the City of Boston. The mall is also home to America’s Food Basket, Family Dollar store, GameStop, Executive Cleaners, a Supreme Liquors store and McDonald’s.
Evelyn Darling, director of the Fields Corner Main Streets organization, said that HomeGoods will be an excellent fit in the business district.
“Its exciting for us, because we want more people to discover Fields Corner and we think a retailer like HomeGoods will attract more people to come here,” said Darling. “A.J. Wright had very strong sales here so we’re really happy that TJX recognized the benefit of being in this neighborhood.”
The loss of a discount clothing retailer in A.J. Wright opens up a new opportunity in the neighborhood— something that Darling and her volunteer committee of merchants and residents is working proactively to fill. EbLens, an urban fashion retailer on Park Street, has been a success since its opening in 2009. Darling said that the store came into the district — in part— because the retailer reached out to the Main Streets office for help in finding a suitable location.
“EbLens was looking to locate in Dorchester and they contacted us a number of years ago with their requirements. We put it out to a few landlords, and although no space met their requirements exactly- the building owner knew one of his tenants was going to be leaving and was able to show them that space,” Darling explains.
“It takes really showing the retailer the vision, but also the sales and the sales potential. A.J. Wright and Radio Shack have done phenomenal business here and we’ve done our work to understand the market characteristics of the neighborhood to show consumer spending power.”
While the Fields Corner mall has been spared a gaping vacancy with the HomeGoods announcement, other parts of the neighborhood continue to suffer high-profile holes in the commercial
The 2008 closure of Hollywood Video near Adams Corner has left a 6,500 square foot building on Granite Ave. without an anchor tenant for several years now. Thomas Naughton, the owner of the building, said this week that a nail salon will soon occupy a smaller 1,500 sq. foot space in the building— but the 5,000 sq ft footprint of the defunct video store has been hard to fill. Naughton has been seeking a lease agreement that would fetch $30 per square foot — not including taxes, utilities and other fees.
National retail businesses, they aren’t doing anything in this economy,” said Naughton, who has turned his marketing efforts towards other potential uses, including medical offices.
Craig Galvin, a realtor who specializes in both commercial and residential properties, says that Dorchester merchants and leaders need to be more creative in engaging potential retailers.
“We’re ripe for the picking, because people want to be here, but we need to be proactive and we need to sell ourselves— and be a little more welcoming,” says Galvin, who last week led a lively Facebook discussion about the merits of luring a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s market to the neighborhood. “The people in Dorchester want it and need it.