7 min read

May 7, 2024 | How healthy is Fort Wayne's retail market?

May 7, 2024 | How healthy is Fort Wayne's retail market?

Hey Locals,

Good news: Fort Wayne's vacant retail space has hit a historic low. But is it all value-adding? We break down the pros and cons of what's happening in local shopping, dining and business.

We also share drink recs and reviews of the new DORA Downtown, and bonus: It's here just in time for you to pregame for Indiana's primary election today. We have details for your trip to the polls.

We also spotlight 89.1 WBOI's new President and General Manager Travis Pope, a recent transplant to Fort Wayne from West Texas. Learn how you can meet him in-person and share your ideas for the local NPR station below!

This month: our newsletter is brought to you by Visit Fort Wayne. Stay tuned for details on the city's first Power of Tourism and Hospitality Awards they're hosting to honor unsung local heroes, making a difference behind-the-scenes. Details next week.

Don't forget: In May, we're also partnering with GK Cafe & Provisions to bring all paid subscribers one of their sinfully delicious Cinny rolls for FREE. We give our paid members a freebie every month at a local business to cover the cost of membership. See what the paid membership is all about with this 30-day trial and you can get a Cinny roll too!

Community Event: When starting The Local, one of our goals was to harness our community to help Fort Wayne neighbors in need. So we're organizing a day of service through Neighborlink. On May 18th, we'd like to get our subscribers together and help a few neighbors with spring yard work for an afternoon. It'll be a chance to support our community and meet fellow subscribers. If that sounds like something you are interested in, sign up here! We'll follow up with specific details in a separate in email closer to the date.

Now, let's get started!

Fort Wayne's retail vacancy is lower than ever, but it's not all improving the city's quality of life.

We share the pros and cons of what's happening in local shopping, dining and business expansion.

Discount convenience stores, like Dollar General, are one of three categories showing the most growth in Fort Wayne.

What's happening?

Fort Wayne's retail vacancy rate dropped below 10% this year (May 2023-April 2024), marking the lowest rate since Zacher Co. started analyzing it in 2008.* “Despite the ongoing economic challenges, the Fort Wayne retail market is surprisingly strong, as evidenced by four consecutive years of increased occupancy,” says Zacher Executive Steven K. Zacher in his company’s report. Retail space is increasingly occupied across the city, including Southeast, The JG reports. But not all retail is necessarily beneficial to communities.

Here are a few quick things to know based on Zacher's findings:

  • There's not a lot of empty retail space. The Zacher Co. reports Fort Wayne's retail occupancy at nearly 13.3 million of 14.7 million total square feet. Almost 300,000 square feet of local retail space has been constructed in the past year, and it's all been absorbed, plus more – 469,000 square feet total.
  • There are still a few big box store vacancies. Namely, Carson's at Glenbrook Square Mall, the AMC Theater on East Dupont, Marsh Grocery on Maplecrest and Art Van Furniture on Coliseum Blvd.
  • A few new, big retailers are likely to draw crowds and benefit other businesses around them. Three Zacher points out are: Ace Pickleball Club leasing space in the Spiece building, Tesla coming to the former Gander Mountain space and Chapman's Brewing at Electric Works.
  • Discount convenience stores, like Dollar General, are one of three categories showing the most growth in Fort Wayne. Zacher's analysis found most local store expansion projects are being undertaken by discount retailers, such as Dollar General, rather than higher-end companies. Nationally, the number of dollar stores – particularly Dollar General – is exploding. "Three major dollar brands have more U.S. stores than Starbucks, Walmart and McDonald's combined," NPR reports. (Other categories showing the most growth in Fort Wayne are car washes and oil change shops.)
  • Drive-thrus are also poised for growth. The report says demand is strong for retail space with drive-thru capacity favored by coffee shops, fast-casual restaurants and other quick-stop retailers. Within Downtown, most drive-thrus are owned by chains instead of local businesses, and they challenge walkability.
  • Downtown still has the highest retail vacancy rate again at 28.1%. During the past decade,* Downtown has had the highest retail vacancy rate in nine out of 10 years (except 2018 when Southeast’s rate was slightly higher). Zacher says Downtown's rate will decline as more people move there, creating greater demand, but the situation will likely last throughout the coming year.
  • There is a shortage of high-quality zoned or zone-able retail development sites. Zacher defines what makes a location high quality as: ”really accessibility and visibility that is properly zoned for commercial use.”

Why it matters

As Fort Wayne grows, it's important to remember that not all growth is value-adding to the local community. We break down points of caution and share reflections from Mayor Sharon Tucker in our premium newsletter.

NOTE: Links to Journal Gazette articles are marked(*) and may be behind a paywall.

Plus: A Public Transit Plan, a new Indian restaurant, the race to fill Mayor Tucker's City Council seat and more. Read all about it in our premium newsletter.

Meet WBOI's new President & General Manager.

Travis Pope shares what's next for the station and how you can provide input!

Travis Pope is the new President & General Manager of 89.1 WBOI.

What's happening?

Fort Wayne's NPR station, 89.1 WBOI, has a new President & General Manager, Travis Pope, a transplant to Fort Wayne from West Texas. To get to know the area and its residents better, Pope is hosting a series of Community Engagement listening sessions with locals, where you can meet him in-person at the Downtown library or virtually to share your ideas for the station and/or tell him about local life, in general.

A few quick things to know...

  • You can meet Pope: by visiting WBOI's website and signing up for a time.
  • WBOI isn't moving Downtown, as previously planned. Instead, it's focusing resources on reporting and programming.
  • But it is working to re-engage the community in events. We loved their Issues & Ales panels at local restaurants previously, and we can't wait to see what's next.
  • It has a new podcast that should be on your radar, too. It's called Northeast Indiana Now, and it offers a quick daily digest of news from Northeast Indiana and around the state.

Learn more in our full interview!

A rainbow Long Island shaved ice from teds Snack + Bar served in an official DORA cup.
  • Drink: your way around Downtown, thanks to the new DORA that went into effect Sunday. We celebrated with a rainbow Long Island shaved ice, courtesy of teds Snack + Bar at Promenade Park, now open weekends in May – with ice cream coming soon!
  • Socialize: at a free sustainable fashion show by two students at Amp Lab at Electric Works: Maisley Sharpe and Olivia Hopkins. The event, May 15, 6-8 p.m., is geared toward networking for "young creatives" and will be held at the GE Club (Bldg 23), featuring retooled clothing and paintings made by Sharpe as well as a live painter, Goodwill vendor and mocktails. 
  • Forage: food in LC Nature Park with Carrie Vrabel of Wild Edible Indiana on May 11, 10 a.m.-noon. ($10 tickets here.) You might know her as the official forager for Rune restaurant.

What else? We recommend more things to do in our premium newsletter. Try it with a 30-day free trial.

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Got a story tip or idea?

Let us know at thelocalfortwayne@gmail.com.

Have a great week, Locals!

-Your Editor, Kara Hackett