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Christiana Fashion Center builds on strong start

Tom Byrne/Delaware Public Media

Christiana Fashion Center, a destination for new-to-the-market retailers, is now attracting some familiar marquees, with at least one big box store relocating to a larger space in the bustling regional shopping hub.

Meanwhile, in Sussex County. plans for a mega shopping center were shot down while Tanger Outlets in Rehoboth Beach announced a major makeover.

And on the national front, retail sales unexpectedly fell in March as consumers held off on buying cars and trucks. Analysts had forecast a 0.3 percent increase in spending, while sales actually declined 0.1 percent.

Best Buy is relocating its existing anchor store to Christiana Fashion Center from Center Point Plaza II off Churchmans Road, about two miles north, where the store has been operating for nine years.

The new store is 46,000 square feet, compared to 30,000 square feet at the Center Point site. Carly Charlson, a Best Buy spokeswoman, said the opportunity to expand the selling space by 50 percent was the deciding factor in the move. All 120 employees will be making the move and Best Buy expects to hire more staff.

Best Buy is partnering with Samsung on a new store-within-a-store concept, called Samsung Open House. The in-store shop will feature a display of Samsung appliances, plus CenterStage, an 85-inch life-size touchscreen that will give customers an interactive virtual tour of Samsung’s home appliances.

Christiana’s Best Buy is one of the first in the U.S. to introduce the concept, which will expand to about 200 more stores this year. A Pacific Kitchen and Home also will be dedicated to household appliances.

The store also will include Apple and Microsoft vendors and a Samsung Experience Shop for mobile devices. Consumers shopping for home entertainment options can check out such in-house offerings as Samsung Entertainment Experience, Sony Home Theater and Magnolia Home Theater will hawk TVs and speakers.

Best Buy helps to solidify Christiana as a hub for tax-free shopping, joining such retailers as REI and The Container Store at the Fashion Center, hh gregg in nearby Christiana Center, and Cabella and the Apple store at Christiana Mall.

Jim Oeste, Allied vice president, did not respond to requests for comment on other prospective tenants, which include TJ Maxx, HomeGoods, Hair Cuttery, Charming Charlie’s, a costume jewelry boutique, and the entertainment venue Dave and Buster’s

Allied currently is at work on the 200,000-square-foot phase two at the center. The developer already has announced that Delaware’s first Ted’s Montana Grill, a 4,500-square-foot restaurant specializing in bison, will open there in January.

DSW Shoes also relocated its Christiana Town Center store to the new center. But instead of expanding, DSW moved into a smaller space. Allied owns both venues.

A summer opening is slated for Zoup, a fast-casual restaurant franchise with a menu that includes soups, salads and sandwiches.

Christiana Mall has added half a dozen new marquees in the past year. They are: clothiers Eddie Bauer and Vill; cosmetics stores Deja Vu BioXAge and Kiehls; the grooming retailer The Art of Shaving; and  Fabletics, a line of fitness clothing launched by the actress Kate Hudson.

Starting this month, Tanger will embark on a major makeover of two of its 19-year-old outlets on Route 1, Tanger Bayside and Tanger Seaside. Tanger Surfside, formerly known as Midway, received a total renovation of its façade in 2014.

The Bayside project will take eight months will include a new coastal theme paint scheme and the construction of new tower elements that add depth to the façade.  New siding, lighting, and architectural details will provide greater curb appeal. Plans also call for the demolition of one building, the extension of another building. The public restrooms between Under Armour and VF Outlet will be gutted and rebuilt.

In recent months Tanger has boosted its mix with several new merchants, including Tumi, a purveyor of luxury luggage. Other newcomers are: Lululemon Athletica, Christopher & Banks, Francesca’s, and Sperry.

Amy Norgate, general manager, said she expects the project will pump about $8.5 million into the local economy and will employ up to 200 people from 20 local companies.

“Tanger is committing extensive resources to renovate Tanger Bayside and Tanger Seaside because they believe that it will keep the center as fresh as the brands found within it,” she said.

Apparently the outlets will not have to compete with Overbrook Town Center, a 850,000-square-foot, 114-acre retail development that would be the largest ever in Sussex County.

Earlier this month, Sussex County Council denied a rezoning request to rezone what is currently farmland into commercial property.

The project was opposed by local farmers, as well as year-round residents who were concerned about the traffic and congestion the complex could generate.

Across the board, retail sales remain lackluster despite a labor market that is starting to gain steam. Analysts note that while wages are beginning to tick up after years in the doldrums, worries about the stock market are dampening consumer confidence.

That is resulting in slim profits for retailers, as merchants are slashing prices in order to move merchandise and reduce glutted inventories.

While nine of 13 major categories reported gains last month, those upticks weren’t large enough to offset steep declines in sales of autos, apparel and restaurants, all categories which are largely fueled with discretionary dollars.

Economists conclude that consumers are still scrimping, when they were expected to spend.

“We’re having a little bit of a soft patch here for the consumer, with no obvious rationale,” Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. said in a statement.

Economists had expected consumers to open their wallets in response to lower gas prices

But now prices at the pump are beginning to creep up.

That’s partly because refineries are operating for few hours due to maintenance that routinely occurs for four to six weeks before the summer driving season heats up, said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst with, a consumer-oriented fuel price check website.

Less supply leads to higher prices. In Delaware, gas is currently selling for an average of $2.02 a gallon, according to statistics gathered by AAA. That is up nine cents from only a week ago.

Eileen Smith Dallabrida has written for Delaware Public Media since 2010. She's also written for USA Today, National Geographic Traveler, the Christian Science Monitor and many other news outlets.