v neck polo New tenants fill the courtyard at Suburban Square

polo boats New tenants fill the courtyard at Suburban Square

“This is how it’s supposed to be.”

That was General Manager Mark Bachus Curran, taking in the scene in the courtyard at Suburban Square one sunny morning recently. A little farther up the plaza, people were sitting at tables reading, enjoying a cup of coffee or working on their laptops.

After a major renovation in late 2011, this signature space in Ardmore’s historic open air shopping center is coming into its own in summer 2013.

That includes filling in what had been a row of vacant storefronts with new tenants. That morning, Curran was leading a visitor on a tour to highlight some of the newest.

Crumbs Bake Shop, a new location of the trendy New York based gourmet cupcake bakery, opened June 14, and a second newcomer, the “fabulously British” teen and college crowd apparel store Jack Wills welcomed its first shoppers on Tuesday. A third new store, SEE Eyewear, is under renovation and expected to open around the corner on Coulter Avenue by mid July.

With a Clark’s shoe store and the frozen yogurt bar Frutti Yummi opening before Memorial Day, five new merchants have set up shop in the past two months, and there are more to come, possibly by back to school time.

Signs are up in the windows of two more courtyard storefronts. This week, Curran confirmed that leases have been signed for a Ten Thousand Villages gift and craft store and a Kate Spade New York boutique.

Finally, he said Everything But Water, a swimwear and apparel store, has also signed to take the Seidenburg Luggage space on St. James Place, when owner Dave Endy retires and closes up shop at the end of July.

What is notable is that, with the Ten Thousand Villages and Kate Spade leases, the courtyard’s retail spaces, which had seen numerous vacancies, will be fully occupied again.

Curran gave great credit to the center’s marketing and leasing team. “I think they have done a phenomenal job,” he said. With 25 years’ experience in shopping center management, “This is the first time I’ve witnessed this much activity” in such a short time, he said.

It was almost three years ago that Suburban Square owner Kimco Realty came to Lower Merion Township with plans for a $1.5 million renovation of the center’s core space. At the time, representatives said they were looking to revive the courtyard, where they said the center was having trouble attracting foot traffic.

The plans included refreshed landscaping, new pavers, improvements at the upper end on St. James Place for a potential festival area, and a new driveway loop for valet parking. A key part of the plan was to attract a new upscale restaurant tenant to anchor the space.

That restaurant, The Saint James, opened last October. It got off to a rocky start with some critical reviews, but if local social media is an indication, it is becoming a regular dining and meeting spot for Main Line neighbors.

In filling other spaces, Curran said the center has continued to look back to a survey it did in 2010. That research showed shoppers were looking for “more dining options, more shoes, more accessories.”

In 2012, high end bridal salon Elizabeth Johns took the prominent corner space at the top of the courtyard previously held by Priscilla of Boston. Filling in more spaces in the row with the new Saint James are the two stores that opened in recent days.

Crumbs Bake Shop, which began with one store on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in 2003, was early in catching onto the gourmet cupcake craze. The chain now has more than 70 stores, including one near Rittenhouse Square. Located in a space adjoining the lobby of the Times office building, it is modeled on an old fashioned candy shop, with wood cases and marble countertops.

The chain claims to offer 50 varieties of cupcakes, with a new “cupcake of the week” each Monday, as well as special occasion cakes. Cupcakes come in Taste (a bite or two), Signature (think about sharing) and Colossal (serves six to eight) sizes. The store also serves Starbucks coffee and other drinks. “More sweets” is how Bachus Curran describes its fit with that survey research.

Farther down the courtyard, in the former Lucy space, the Britain based Jack Wills chain is making Ardmore its first Philadelphia suburban location, after opening a store on Walnut Street in the city. (See related story.)

“We’re very excited about them. They don’t go into malls. They thought Suburban Square was a really good fit for their concept,” Curran said. That concept draws inspiration from British “public school” style and sporting design think polo, rugby and rowing. “Their core market is 13 to 24. It’s a younger demographic, which we like to see.”

Filling out that side of the courtyard will be Ten Thousand Villages, next to The Saint James in the former Apricot Lane space, and Kate Spade in the corner spot previously occupied by City Sports until its move a short distance away.

The Lancaster County based non profit chain Ten Thousand Villages emphasizes fair trade practices and focuses on providing a market for artisans in developing countries. Kate Spade, featuring designer handbags, apparel and accessories, is a luxury brand that strengthens that component of the tenant mix, Curran said.

Moving around the corner on Coulter Avenue, the hip optical store SEE Eyewear will open next month, making Suburban Square the chain’s first Pennsylvania location. “These days, glasses can be a fashion statement,” Curran said, and SEE Eyewear is dedicated to that principle. The store, which will offer eye exams, works directly with “forward looking designers” to provide leading edge style at reasonable cost: “Hip without the rip,” is its motto.

As for that major investment in the courtyard renovation, it is clearly paying off, not only in terms of attracting trend setting tenants, but by contributing to Suburban Square’s tradition as one of America’s first open air “lifestyle centers.”

In that 2010 survey, Curran recalls, an illuminating point was that “50 percent of people said they come to Suburban Square not intending to make a purchase.” It is “the feel of Suburban Square” they enjoy. “It’s a true neighborhood center on the Main Line.”

“But that translates into sales,” he added, noting that sales for the center “have been positive and have remained positive for the last several years,” through the economic downturn.

A couple of key vacancies remain. A large space on Montgomery Avenue remains empty almost a year after Jay Michael Salon left. Plate restaurant’s departure in May after 10 years on Coulter Avenue leaves that space available. Curran said there has been “a lot of interest” in the location.

No announcement on that spot yet, but “I feel pretty confident there will be another success story for that space,” he said.
v neck polo New tenants fill the courtyard at Suburban Square