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3 upscale retailers to open in Northtown Plaza

Three more national chains are coming to the gradually revamped Northtown Plaza in Amherst, including the first Buffalo area location for home furnishings retailer West Elm.

Williams Sonoma, a gourmet kitchenware and home decor seller, and home furnishings store Pottery Barn will be moving to the plaza from their exiting locations at Walden Galleria, said Brian Sciera, a Buffalo native and senior vice president of Massachusetts-based WS Development, which owns Northtown.

Williams Sonoma owns the two other brands.

The three retailers in 2019 will join other lead tenants L.L.Bean and Whole Foods Market, which opened its $15 million store last week in the plaza on Sheridan Drive.

The presence of Whole Foods, along with the demographics, population density and income levels in that area of the region are what attracted Williams Sonoma to Northtown, said Sciera.

"They love Whole Foods and they love the Whole Foods customer," he said. "So I think it was a number of things that added up to them wanting to come to Northtown."

Meanwhile, other details emerged Thursday on the plan to remake Northtown from a plaza of mainly mom-and-pop shops into what Sciera called an "open-air lifestyle center." A 10,000 square foot "green" in the center of the property will host complimentary yoga classes, movie nights, public art, seasonal ice skating and "yappy hours," or happy hours for dogs and their owners.

WS Development, a major national owner of shopping centers, bought the Northtown Plaza two years ago and initially talked about spending as much as $75 million to transform it. Many longtime tenants have relocated in recent months, leaving the plaza virtually empty, as WS has sought to bring in more upscale tenants.

"We've worked a lot with Williams Sonoma and they really like our recipe for what we do and the type of project we put together," said Sciera.

Located near the heavily trafficked corner of Sheridan Drive and Niagara Falls Boulevard, the plaza was built on farmland 65 years ago.

WS Development paid $18.5 million in 2015 for the 19-acre plaza, which has 350,000 square feet of space, or twice the size of the Walmart Supercenter on Sheridan Drive.

The nearest West Elm, which sells furniture and home decor, is in Rochester. The Galleria had been courting West Elm for some time but apparently lost out to Northtown. It's another instance of a retailer preferring an open-air plaza to an enclosed mall, which is the trend.

"There are great malls out there that are going to continue to get better and be great malls," said Sciera. "There will be a lot of malls that won't get better. But there's a lot of retailers with a certain kind of customer that really, really like the open air format and how it resonates with their brand."

The stores will be built to the west of the new 50,000 square foot Whole Foods store and are expected to open in late summer or early fall 2019.

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