A patio and pool store is leasing part of the former Upton's department store building at Dobbin Center, and the real estate agent leasing the building is hoping to soon release the name of a larger retailer to occupy the rest of the space.
News of the Upton's building lease comes on the heels of an announcement that Wal-Mart will lease the former Kmart building in the same shopping center.
The Upton's lease is a sign of revitalization for the aging shopping center and reinforces the strength of Columbia's retail markets outside its village centers, analysts said.
In the area around Route 175 and Dobbin Road, three other shopping centers have either been built or revived in recent years. And the newest center, Columbia Crossing II, is attracting a large number of customers.
"Columbia is a strong retail market," said Bob Morris, an agent with real estate company NAI KLNB Inc.
"Many of the stores in Snowden Square [are] top performers. [In Columbia Crossing], Dick's is doing very well, and Target is doing very well, and Toys 'R' Us is doing very well."
At Dobbin Center, Offenbacher's, a local retailer that sells upscale pool and patio equipment along with billiards tables and fireplace equipment, has agreed to take 17,100 square feet in the Upton's building, which is being divided into two parcels.
Construction has begun at the new Offenbacher's location, which is expected to open in the spring. The Columbia store will be the company's seventh in the region.
The remaining part of the Upton's building - 48,000 square feet - is under negotiation, said Neil Tucker, a vice president of CB Richard Ellis Inc., which is leasing the building. Although the building has been vacant for nearly four years, Wal-Mart's move to the center has made it more attractive to other retailers, Tucker said.
"There has been a lot of strong interest," he said. "Our perception of the center was always very strong. Columbia is one of the strongest markets. We never thought of it as distressed."
The 18-year-old Dobbin Center seemed doomed without an anchor standing in the shadow of the newer and trendier Columbia Crossing.
The only good news to come out of the center in recent years was the addition of a Tweeters electronics store and a Baja Fresh Mexican Grill, which became so popular it expanded within a year.
But in that time, Kmart and a BGE Home store left the shopping center because of corporate financial woes. The losses stood in stark contrast to the flourishing business all around Dobbin Center.
Adjacent to Dobbin, a developer demolished a former steakhouse and built a shopping center with a Fuddruckers restaurant and Starbucks coffee shop two years ago.
Across Route 175 is Columbia Crossing shopping center, which boasts strong sales at its collection of big-box stores. Adjacent to Columbia Crossing is Crossing II, a new center with a Home Depot Expo design center and LongHorn Steakhouse, which also has become popular.
With the news that Wal-Mart will occupy an 110,000-square- foot space left vacant by Kmart last summer, Dobbin Center looks as if it is on the rebound.
"They still face the competition, heavy competition from across the street. But Wal-Mart is a good player to have. They do tremendous on traffic numbers," said Patrice Selleck, a spokeswoman with the International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade association.
"It sounds more positive, but it'll be a slower rather than a quick turnaround," she said. "Economic conditions are going to make it tougher."