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MORE STORES, MORE CHOICES FOR LOCAL CONSUMERS

Buffalo consumers will be introduced to a number of new retailers in the next year, in what promises to be another strong 12 months of local retail development.

By year's end local shopping lists will include Best Buy, the nation's leading electronics seller, and Galyan's Trading Co., a chain of sporting goods superstores. Meanwhile, big box home improvement giant Home Depot will grow its local stable of stores from four to six locations, Sears will get a fifth local address, and several other merchants will expand their presence.

"The list of who is coming, and who is increasing their presence, is a real tribute to the drawing power of the Buffalo market," said Rex Burgher, vice president, Benderson Development Co., a Buffalo company which controls more than 14 million square feet of local retail space.

"I remain upbeat and positive that Buffalo will remain on their maps for new stores and expansion for the foreseeable future."

Arthur Judelsohn, president of Buffalo's Berlow Real Estate, who has represented numerous national and regional retailers in their local leasing efforts, is also confident about the year ahead.

"We're heading into a year where the economy is still healthy and retailers are still looking to add units," Judelsohn said.

In addition to traditional retail stores, he expects growth in the leisure entertainment arena.

"I see more movies, restaurants and other recreational uses. People want quality, fresh entertainment for their limited free time, and there will be new players to provide new venues," he added.

Largest sporting goods store

Leading the charge of newcomers will be Galyan's Trading Co., an up-and-coming sporting goods chain, which will open its first New York store at the Walden Galleria in March.

At 80,000-square-feet in size, with an inventory of more than 200,000 products, Galyan's will be bigger than the Buffalo area's other sporting goods stores, including the 60,000-square-foot Dick's Sporting Goods on Transit Road in Clarence.

Joan Hurley, Galyan's marketing chief, said the 16-store chain wanted to have a presence in the Buffalo market because sports are a big part of the local lifestyle.

"The people of Buffalo are very outdoors-oriented, they fit our target customer demographics perfectly. We can't wait to open up there," Ms. Hurley said.

The Galleria store, like other new Galyan's will be a $6 million, two-story brick structure with a dramatic arched roof and expansive glass front. While the building is essentially a two-story structure, the sweeping roofline center stands nearly a full story higher.

For the Galleria, the construction of Galyan's marks the fifth exterior expansion project since it opened in May 1989. In 1991, a 100,000-square-foot Lord & Taylor and an 80,000-square-foot Lechmere were added to the original mall building. Kaufmann's also put on a 40,000-square-foot addition.

In 1992, the developer put up a $4 million, 600-car parking deck. That three-story ramp increased the Galleria's total parking capacity to 7,200 spaces.

Galleria General Manager Jim Soos said the sporting goods store adds a whole new dimension to the area's top shopping venue.

"It's a use that really wasn't served here," Soos said. "Our continuing objective is to bring in those unique uses, which in turn bring us new customers."

While the Galyan's expansion is well under way, there continue to be questions about the status of plans for a three-story, prototype Sears store. That 155,000-square-foot project, which will replace an existing 105,000-square-foot Sears store at the Galleria, has been put on hold.

The replacement Sears store is part of a larger mall expansion plan which got a green light from Town of Cheektowaga officials in June 1998.

The approved blueprint calls for the area's largest shopping facility, from 1.5 million square feet up to 2.1 million square feet. Pyramid Cos., the Galleria's owner, had planned to expand the Galleria beyond the current Sears location, converting that area into a shop-lined corridor, and adding the new Sears, plus a multilevel parking garage and an additional structure to house an unidentified tenant.

Even if a decision to move ahead on the Sears portion of that project this year, the store would not debut until 2001, according to a Sears representative.

Action on the Boulevard

Meanwhile, construction is progressing quickly on the Buffalo area's fifth Sears location, a new 130,000-square-foot store in Amherst, situated at the south end of Boulevard Mall, facing Niagara Falls Boulevard.

The new, two-story store, slated to open in August, will be the first full-line Sears department store in the Amherst/Tonawanda corridor.

A little farther up Niagara Falls Boulevard, Best Buy Co. -- the nation's largest seller of consumer electronics, personal computers, appliances and entertainment software -- is expected to open its first Buffalo-area store in Boulevard Consumer Square.

While Best Buy has not made its plans public to date, sources in the retailing and real estate communities said the giant chain plans will construct a 45,000-square-foot building in the 1500 block of Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst in time for the key Christmas 2000 selling season.

Benderson executive Burgher, whose company controls the power center, declined to discuss specific tenant plans, but did say he expects the site to be fully leased by the end of 2000.

"Our goal is to complete several of our centers, and that would include Boulevard Consumer Square," Burgher said. "We feel there's a level of interest on the part of retailers to allow us to do that."

Benderson, which added some 850,000 square feet of retail space to the Buffalo market in 1999, also hopes to put the finishing touches on its Delaware Consumer Square center in Buffalo, while leasing remaining slots at Thruway Plaza in Cheektowaga. The company will also continue renovations at University Plaza, located on Main Street, at the Buffalo/Amherst border.

Quiet supermarket scene

2000 will be one of the quieter years in recent memory on the supermarket construction front. Tops Markets Inc., the area's leading supermarket and convenience store operator, will add just one brand new Tops Friendly Market this year, a 65,000-square-foot supermarket in the Sheridan-Delaware Plaza, in the Town of Tonawanda.

The company will also open a long-debated replacement store in East Aurora, moving its operations from the village's Circle to the Aurora Village Shopping Center. Construction on the new 66,000-square-foot store is expected to begin this spring. In all, Tops will add four new full-scale markets this year, including stores in Ohio and Central New York.

It also has 20 new Wilson Farms locations on the drawing board, including four in metro-Buffalo. The food retailer is also hoping to get its gas kiosk program off the ground, despite early negative reaction about locating gasoline pumps at some of its supermarkets.

Local Tops shoppers should also keep an eye open for the introduction of Bucks County Coffee carts, a trademarked gourmet coffee service. Tops International store in West Seneca is currently experimenting with the in-store amenity, which could be expanded to other locations this year if it remains popular.

Tops, which introduced its BonusCard shopper loyalty program a year ago, has plans to enhance the programs, according to spokeswoman Stefanie Zakowicz.

"We want to provide our BonusCard customers with new values. We want to keep the program fresh, interesting and worthwhile," Zakowicz said, declining to reveal specific upcoming promotions.

More than 90 percent of Tops shoppers have signed up for the money-saving program in the past year.

Tops is also planning new developments on its Web site, including the ability to order gift baskets and floral arrangements with the click of a computer mouse.

Wegmans, the market's No. 2 ranked food retailer, will hold the line on new local stores in Western New York, shelving plans to replace its aging Sheridan Drive location with a complete new build. While Wegmans will open two new stores in New Jersey, it will respond to consumer requests for a remodeled Amherst store, instead of the brand new structure it originally planned to build.

Wegmans is also looking to its Internet Web site for innovations in the coming year. Online gift buying, ranging from flowers to lobster to gift baskets, will be expanded.

Wegmans' Shoppers Club cardholders will also be able to obtain more information about accounts and special Shoppers Club offerings, via the net, according to Wegmans spokeswoman Ann McCarthy.

"The Web site proved very popular during the holiday season, so we'd like to be able to meet gift giving needs year-round via our site," McCarthy said.

The Wegmans home page will also lead shoppers to more recipes, healthy eating information and personalized meal planning assistance in the coming year.

New drug stores planned

Local consumers will also be able to add more drug stores to their shopping routes in 2000. Eckerd Drugs, which took over area Fay's Drug stores a few years ago, will debut at least six new stores, most of which will be replacements for the smaller, less modern Fay's it inherited in the acquisition.

New stand-alone stores are slated in Buffalo for Broadway and Bailey Avenue, Grant and West Ferry streets, and Cazenovia Parkway and Seneca Street. There's also new Eckerds coming at the corner of Pine Ridge Terrace and Genesee Street in Cheektowaga, and Payne Avenue and 19th Avenue in North Tonawanda.

Meanwhile, competitors Rite-Aid and Walgreens also have new stores on their 2000 agendas as they too continue to replace small stores with huge, free-standing new build units.

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