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At a glance
Southgate Plaza tenants:
Acceptance Auto Insurance
AJ’s Locker Room
Athlete’s Foot
Belmont Beverage
Burger King
Cali Nails
Chase Bank
Check Into Cash
China Buffet
Coney Express
CSL Plasma
DaVita Dialysis
Dollar Tree
Eyes by India
Famous Hair
Hick’s Caskets
H&R Block
Insure One
Peerless Cleaners
Radio Shack
Rita’s Alterations
Sally Beauty Supply
Salvation Army Family Store
Shoe Show
Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Rainbow clothing store recently relocated within Southgate Plaza to occupy the spot vacated last year when Marshalls moved to Jefferson Pointe.

Southgate Plaza strives to find right retail fit

Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Southgate Plaza has an 86 percent occupancy rate. “It’s been tough with the economy the way it is,” said Preston Elkins, property manager for Kellams Enterprises Inc. “We’re constantly looking for the right tenants.”

When Marshalls left Southgate Plaza in favor of Jefferson Pointe it could have been seen as a slight to the area.

But businessman Ted Williams, who owns a pair of McDonald’s restaurants, doesn’t view it that way.

“When Marshalls first came, everybody was real excited,” Williams said about the store that exited in early 2013 after less than two years at the southeast location. It reopened at Jefferson Pointe in October. “I don’t know what happened. Maybe they felt it wasn’t the type of market it needed.”

Marshalls offers discounted brand-name apparel, accessories and home merchandise. About two months ago, Rainbow clothing store relocated within Southgate to occupy the spot Marshalls had. Rainbow carries affordable merchandise for teenage girls, children and plus-size women.

While boosters are glad to see an empty storefront filled, Rainbow’s move still amounts to a case of musical chairs as another tenant, Shoe Show, will take over Rainbow’s old location. So, a problem still persists for the southeast side – how to lure retailers and other business to the area.

That didn’t used to be an issue. When Southgate Plaza took root in the mid-1950s at Pettit Avenue and Lafayette and South Calhoun streets, it was arguably the premiere shopping destination in Fort Wayne. By the late 1960s, however, Southtown Mall arrived and captured consumers’ attention and contributed to a decline at the plaza.

But Southgate hung in there and in 1985 was in the midst of a revival that included a $4 million investment by Kroger, the center’s original anchor. The grocer drew other retailers, such as Belmont Beverage and a True Value Hardware. As for Southtown Mall, it closed in 2003 and Walmart, Menards and the Public Safety Academy now reside where it once stood.

John Dortch is president of the Southside Business Group, an organization committed to fostering growth in the quadrant. Dortch said he doesn’t want businesses cannibalizing each other. Rather, he is pushing for a mix of enterprises.

Southgate Plaza is important to the community’s growth, Dortch said, but so is attracting manufacturers, health care providers, restaurants and hotels.

“We’re not going to give up,” said Dortch, whose group met with Indiana Economic Development Corp. President Eric Doden on Friday. “We’d like to fill the Target store building across the street from Kmart, which is also closing. We have hope that something will happen.”

Target closed in 2005, while Kmart, another South Anthony Boulevard retailer, was to shut its doors today.

When Marshalls left Southgate, a spokeswoman of its parent company, Framingham, Mass.-based TJX Cos., would only say the closing came after assessing its real estate strategy.

Evidently, the company has a different game plan than Frontier Communications Corp., which has a retail store at Southgate.

“The traffic is there, and it’s a good location for us,” said Dana Berkes, a spokeswoman for Frontier. “To have a retail store on the north side and south side of town is a great point of contact for us to connect with our customers.”

And Southgate’s anchor tenant – Kroger – is among the Fort Wayne stores where the retailer has invested $105 million since 2009. Kroger spent about $3 million at the nearly 67,000-square-foot store in 2010. Improvements at the supermarket included expanded produce and meat departments, a redesigned deli and bakery, self-service registers and a new customer service area.

Before that, the Southgate store received a $250,000 renovation in the fall of 2002, a facelift that followed an expansion in 1998. “There is value at that plaza,” Williams said. “At times, it’s just a matter of the right fit.”

Shopper Keith Pettie said Kroger and the Dollar Tree are the stores he frequents most at Southgate.

“It was too bad Marshalls left because we needed something like that here,” the 55-year-old factory worker said. “I know they left, but you have to look at the economy, and it’s not that good.”

The shopping plaza’s owner agrees.

Preston Elkins is the property manager for Kellams Enterprises Inc. of Oolitic, 20 miles south of Bloomington. He said the plaza’s occupancy rate is about 86 percent.

“It’s been tough with the economy the way it is,” Elkins said. “We’re constantly looking for the right tenants, but it’s been hard on some of our mom-and-pops. Hopefully, this year will be better.”