R.J. Brunelli: Northern Jersey retail vacancy rate edges down

Old Bridge, N.J. — Thanks to absorptions of numerous empty big-box space on Route 22, the vacancy rate in retail properties along northern New Jersey’s six major shopping corridors inched own to 8.1% from a high of 8.2% a year ago, according to the latest survey by R.J. Brunelli & Co.

In its 23rd annual study of the six-county northern New Jersey market, the retail brokerage found 2.40 million sq. ft. of vacancies in the 29.50 million sq. ft. of space examined along the six corridors, with availabilities seen in 176 of the 909 properties reviewed. This compared with 2.33 million sq. ft. of vacancies in 28.34 million sq. ft. of space in the 2012 study.

Conducted during the second quarter, the study reviewed shopping centers and freestanding buildings exceeding 2,000 sq. ft. along state Highways 4, 10, 17, 22, 23 and 46/3 and certain intersecting arteries in Bergen, Essex, Morris, Passaic, Somerset and Union counties. Freestanding restaurants, auto service facilities and auto dealerships are also included, while enclosed regional malls and centers under construction or redevelopment are excluded.

“Despite the progress shown on the hard-hit Route 22 corridor, northern New Jersey has yet to recover from the effects of the rash of big-box retail bankruptcies that began to elevate vacancies in 2009 when the rate jumped to 6.6% from 3.6% the prior year,” said Richard J. Brunelli, president of the firm. “Our latest study found that big-box vacancies have stabilized as health clubs and retailers looking to expand their footprint in the region led to net absorption over the past year.

“But we’re also seeing rising vacancies in small store space. Small chains and mom and pops continue to struggle to get financing for new locations or start-up ventures. Meanwhile, marginal operators unwilling to try to make a go of it in a tough economy are shutting their doors as leases expire.”

In the big-box arena, the 2013 study found that vacancies in stores exceeding 20,000 sq. ft. declined to 1.06 million sq. ft. or 45% of total empty space, from 1.09 million sq. ft. or 46.7% in 2012.

Approximately 772,207 sq. ft. or 73% of this year’s empty big box space came from stores that remained vacant since the firm’s 2012 survey and, in many cases, from 2011 and before.

For copies of the firm’s northern or central New Jersey studies, which cover the various retail corridors individually, visit the R. J. Brunelli & Co. website: Retailrealty.com.