Long-time business owner revamps problem shopping center

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Investors say it’s the most dense retail area in the state, drawing shoppers from all over the region. Yet, you wouldn’t know it by the looks of one of Cottonwood shopping center. Alameda West sits at the corner of Coors and Seven Bar Loop, right across from Cottonwood Mall, but it still boasts an unusually high vacancy rate. One man is trying to change that.

Cottonwood only has three-percent vacancy, but this shopping center is 30-percent vacant. At least it was until a long-time businessman bought the center from the bank last December.

“Through my experience, I have some financial where with all. I would rather invest in something I control as opposed to stock market or something else,” said Alameda West owner Art Gardenswartz.

You might remember Gardenswartz’s family business – Gardenswartz Sports – from back in the ’80s. He had a stake in the Alameda West Shopping Center, but he pulled his business for a better spot just down the road. He says a pad in the Target shopping center had more visibility without the eyesore.  Alameda West was built around a number of gas pipes that make the center unsightly, according to Gardenswartz.

Alameda West went into foreclosure and was bank owned for years, but last December, all that changed. Gardenswartz bought the shopping center from the bank and began investing — revamping the center’s retail space and landscape.

“I know you find a good tenant, you get the rent and you have to spend the money. In other words, I saw right away that if you could do that, you could bring the tenants back,” Gardenswartz explained.

Most recently, he’s welcomed We Rock the Spectrum kid’s gym and Bahama Buck’s.

“When this became available, we kind of jumped on it,” said Bahama Buck’s Owner Richard Hall. He and his wife, Martha, opened the west side location in May. They’ve always liked the space but knew the center had problems.

“The center does need some help. I mean, it’s kind of been struggling for years and I think we’re just the initial thing to kind of kick off a successful venture that I think Art wants to do here,” said Hall.

The same month they got keys to their new shop, their two neighbors closed their doors. It hasn’t seemed to affect the Hall’s business, though. It was the number two Bahama Buck’s in the country for the month of May and it wasn’t even open for the first four days of the month.

“It’s just overwhelming to us. We have absolutely been just overwhelmed by the number of people who have wanted to come see us and we’re very grateful for that,” Hall said.

Long-time business Other Mothers has also seen a boom. Their old space in Alameda West was long, dark and narrow. Then, when Harbor Freight moved in next door, customers complained the place smelled like oil. What’s more, employees couldn’t use the heater due to a carbon monoxide leak. They say the bank wouldn’t help. Yet, when they started talking about leaving, Gardenswartz put up a fight. Owners Melinda Wetzel and Mike Apodaca negotiated a lease for a new, bigger space. Now, they say the Alameda West location sometimes fares even better than their top grossing store in the nation. That one is located on Montgomery.

Both businesses say they’re confident the shopping center can only get better as long as Gardenswartz has a stake.

“We’re hoping that with what Art’s got going and what we’ve got, this center has a real good future,” Hall said.

Gardenswartz has already taken a chunk out of the vacancy rate. It’s down to 20-percent and he hopes to have it at zero by the end of the year. Gardenswartz is looking to bring in a store like Marshall’s, a national health service group and some restaurants. He says he’s thinking about a breakfast shop, one that might have a driver-thru for coffee. Art is also working with PNM to enclose the gas pipe eyesore with a fence.

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