Chain reactions

In 2007 and 2008, the business strip along Ulster Avenue in the Town of Ulster, the strip mall center of northern Ulster County, seemed in danger of becoming a ghost town. Laz-Y-Boy closed its doors. Talbot’s moved out. Pier One moved closer to Barnes & Noble and no permanent tenant took its spot near the entrance to Wal-Mart. Midas closed down, then burned. Linens ’n Things in Ulster folded. Friendly’s closed its uptown location and the restaurant in the Hudson Valley Mall. The mall itself won a mention as a potential problem on the site deadmalls.com and was sold by Pyramid Corporation to CBL & Associates in 2011.

Brice Discount Beverages’ building is still empty and Famous Footwear is sandwiched between two empty storefronts.

Ulster Town Supervisor James Quigley III, who had been a partner in a New York City real estate investment company, described the cycle as predictable. “In 2008, we went into the recession and large chains cut back on new openings,” he said. “So although it’s normal for businesses to come and go, you really notice it when a business moves out and nobody’s coming in behind them.”

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All that has “clearly changed,” said Quigley, with the focus now on choosing carefully among the businesses that want to find a spot on the Ulster Avenue strip. “We’re trying to plan, to be proactive,” he said. “To put it plainly, we don’t want to junk up Ulster Avenue.”

The national recession hasn’t completely lifted yet. McDonalds announced in January that its sales at established stores in the U.S. were down an average of 2.2 percent. That’s the first time that’s happened in almost a decade.

OPI Magazine (Office Products International) reports that Staples is reporting continuing declines in sales. Office Max and Office Depot are merging. Barnes & Noble, the nation’s biggest bookstore chain (Borders, you’ll remember, is gone) reported a sharp decline in sales and, according to Reuters, is considering selling its bookstore business. Friendly’s has declared bankruptcy and closed 63 restaurants.

But there are also signs of an economic spring on Ulster Avenue. Chipotle Grill is taking over the old Laz-Y-Boy building. K-mart was replaced by Kohl’s. Jo-Ann Fabric is redecorating. The Friendly’s on Ulster Avenue is still in business and Starbucks offers plenty of caffeine on the way to Home Depot or while you’re browsing at Barnes & Noble. Moe’s Southwestern moved next door to Panera, and though the Sports Authority never seems to be hopping it’s still open.

“It’s not always a bad thing when businesses come and go,” reflected Kingston Area Chamber of Commerce President Ward Todd. “It can give an area a fresh new look.”

Todd said the Chamber usually only hears about changes once the ink is dry on the paper. Though he’s in on the arrival of Chipotle Grill and the unfortunately named Canz-a-Citi Roadhouse, which will replace Buffalo Wild Wings in the old Ground Round spot at the Hudson Valley Mall, he said he didn’t know what else might be coming.

Calls to Benderson, which owns the Ulster Landings Mall (Barnes & Noble, etc.) and CBRE Realty, which is listing the old Pier One building, were not returned.

Quigley said the town of Ulster was looking to create more development, extending the shopping district beyond the Route 209/199 overpass northward on Route 9W. “The challenge is to adapt existing space to new use,” he said.

Quigley expects groundbreaking in a couple of months for an 84,000-square-foot medical office building across from Adams Fairacre Farms, the site of the former Miron industrial plant currently best suited to an apocalyptic movie set. In addition, Tractor Supply Co. will open a 20,000-square-foot retail space with an equally sized enclosed storage space.

“Now the developer is looking for an anchor for the middle part of the property,” Quigley said. “He’s got generic approval for a hotel, bank, retail space or pharmacy. Our goal is to start to attract businesses who want to be on Ulster Avenue to the northern end of the development. The Town of Ulster is out of land on the current corridor; we want to prove to retailers they can be as successful north of Route 199 as they can be to the south.”

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