Hechinger Co.'s announcement that it will close its remaining stores begs a basic question: who's going to occupy all that space left behind by one of the Baltimore area's oldest and most entrenched retail chains?
It's a question that is likely to intrigue the commercial real estate community for some time to come.
Susan B. Anderson, vice president of H & R Retail Inc. in Timonium, called the liquidation and dispersion of the Hechinger properties "a big deal."
She said the sheer diversity of the chain's holdings makes it impossible to generalize about what will become of the properties.
"They're so varied and they're different sizes and they have different ownership situations," Anderson said. "There are so many different possibilities."
Some of the properties are leased and some are wholly owned by Hechinger, said Don Stallings, the company's president and chief operating officer.
One of those possibilities is that some of the nine Hechinger outlets in the Baltimore area will be converted into grocery stores.
"Grocery stores are always looking for space," Anderson said.
However, she added that such a transformation may not be possible for Hechinger stores in shopping centers that already have food stores.
Thomas H. Maddux, a principal at Towson real-estate brokerage KLNB Inc., said that while some of the older, 60,000 square-foot Hechinger stores could be attractive destinations for grocers, there are newer, larger stores that are closer to 100,000 square feet.
These stores, he said, might entice hardware chains such as Home Depot Inc. and Lowe's Cos. Inc. -- rivals that played a big role in Hechinger's demise.
"It has not been easy for Home Depot and Lowe's to get into [the Baltimore] market. It has not been easy for them to find sites," Maddux said, saying the area's mature, highly zoned commercial properties can make entry tough.
Home Depot spokesman John Simley declined to comment on his company's specific plans regarding the soon-to-be-closed Hechinger stores. He said that while Home Depot would consider locating new stores in "under-served" areas, such entries would have to offer a chance of succeeding at sites where another company has failed.
"It may not have made sense for a company that was vacating to have a store there. Why would it make sense for us?" Simley asked.
KLNB's Maddux said there was another option -- that some of the former Hechinger stores could even be divided between two different tenants.