WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Dave’s Marketplace. Dollar General. Ace Hardware. Harbor Freight. O’Reilly Auto Parts.
These are just some of the new tenants set to move into a host of former Benny’s locations in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut, according to Kelly Coates, president of Carpionato Group.
Carpionato acquired 29 Benny’s stores after the chain shuttered in late 2017, and Coates told Eyewitness News on Thursday that they’ll be making more announcements about the future of the sites in the coming months.
So far, the company has confirmed that Dollar General stores are coming to former Benny’s locations in East Providence and Seekonk. Ace Hardware stores will be moving into the Seekonk properties, as well. Harbor Freight and O’Reilly Auto Parts already opened new stores at the former East Wareham site.
“We have medical offices taking one building, and we have U-Haul taking one building, and a large hospital taking one building,” Coates said. “And so they’ll be announced over the next coming 45 days.”
A spokeswoman for Dave’s Marketplace confirmed to Eyewitness News the local supermarket is finalizing plans to move its store on West Shore Road in Warwick into the former Benny’s on the same street. She said Dave’s hopes to have the new, larger store open by the end of the year.
Coates said the plan is to have multiple supermarkets move into former Benny’s stores, but he wouldn’t specify which ones.
When Carpionato announced the acquisition in late 2017, Coates said executives there hoped to have the first stores open for business in Rhode Island by Christmas of 2018. But that deadline came and went with most of the Rhode Island properties still untouched.
“The process of negotiating with national retailers, of getting all of the stores measured by architects, getting plans competed for the new tenants, getting the permits done for that process, extended it a little bit longer,” Coates said. “So I think we’ll have a majority of the stores occupied for Christmas of 2019.”
With stores like Nordstrom, Sears and Macy’s all recently announcing closures locally, Coates admitted the current retail landscape has had an impact on Carpionato’s business. But he contends the properties having the hardest time retaining and attracting new tenants are what he classifies as “class B” regional malls.
“What’s going on in retail is called a ‘flight to quality,'” Coates said. “So they leave sites that are not quality sites, and they’re consolidating in the best locations they can get. Has that impacted us? We have a portfolio of 5 million square feet of retail that’s ever-expanding, so of course it impacts us. But in general, our portfolio is in the 90’s in its occupancy level, 90-percent level of occupancy.”
Coates also said there has been less of a hit in the niche Benny’s filled: “convenience retail.”
“If you go to Benny’s you could run in, grab your lawn bags, you could go in, grab light bulbs, you could go in, grab fertilizer or tools, it was all a convenience retailer,” he said. “The tenants that will replace that are all convenience retailers.”
“Convenience retail is still solid and expanding,” he added. “So all those tenants I named, they’re not relocation opportunities, they’re new expansions.”
Coates said Carpionato has invested roughly $20 million into the Benny’s properties so far, and plans to keep its pledge to invest more than $100 million. He said the redevelopment so far has employed hundreds of people in both design and construction jobs.
As far as retail employment, Coates said Carpionato will still offer former Benny’s employees first refusal.
“We’ve informed all of the tenants we’re in negotiations with that not only does Benny’s former employees get first priority on hiring, but also we try to emphasize local hiring,” he said.
By this time next year, Coates said he hopes more than 70 percent of the former Benny’s locations will be occupied. He said there might be 10 to 15 percent without tenants by January 2020, with the remainder under construction.
“They’ll be great national, regional and local retailers, and they’ll be employing people and lots of places for people to shop for Christmas next year,” he said.