Developer Arthur Campbell believes the future growth of retail space in Lebanon County looks bright.
Campbell, president and owner of Cumberland County-based Campbell Commercial Real Estate, Inc., says this for one reason.
“It’s simple math,” Campbell said during a telephone interview with LebTown. “The advantage we have in Central PA, unlike a lot of other areas of the state, is that we are increasing population. You can check this, but I believe Cumberland County is the fastest growing county in the state and Lebanon is also seeing population growth.”
(Cumberland County is indeed the fastest growing county in the state, and Lebanon trails close behind.)
Campbell added that an increase in population translates into retail growth to meet the consumer needs of those new residents.
“When you have residential growth, you will have a need for retail services that go along with that,” Campbell said. “There are certain public and personal services that are needed with (population) growth. You will see more restaurants, more fitness locations and other services being offered.”
Lebanon County has experienced population growth over the past 10 years, according to data posted online by the United States Census Bureau.
In April 2010, Lebanon County had a population of 133,568 people and was estimated to have 141,793 county residents as of July 1, 2019, an overall increase of 6.1 percent. New data on the county’s growth should be available next year after the 2020 U.S. Census is completed.
Campbell added that he does make this positive retail prediction based on the county’s ongoing population growth with one caveat.
“You will not see retail growth with large department stores anymore,” Campbell said. “That was a [downward] trend that was already happening pre-COVID and quarantine has only accelerated movement in that direction.”
There are other factors, however, as to why he feels there will be growth in the retail real estate market in Lebanon County.
“We’ve seen an increase in the number of building permits in housing and in job creation,” Campbell said. “A couple of other factors are also keeping the economy strong. We’ve seen growth in the number of distribution centers or warehouses. We’ve still been strong in a number of other industrial sectors, especially in government employment.”
Campbell pointed to the construction of the North Cornwall Commons, located near the Lebanon Valley Exposition Center and Fairgrounds, as an example of population growth in the Lebanon Valley that leads to an increase in retail businesses. North Cornwall Commons includes 160 townhouses, 220 apartments and two high-rise buildings, according to Campbell.
“The North Cornwall Commons project that we represent is a mixed-use growth,” Campbell said. “If you watch the growth of that project, it’s gone from townhouses for sale, which sold very briskly. Then the developer put a small retail building up, a nail salon and a coffee shop right away, too. And we’re now looking at adding restaurants.”
Campbell said that the kinds of retail shops that are attracted to new residential projects like North Cornwall Commons are fueled by what’s hot with consumers.
“If you look at this, you’re really selling to your market,” Campbell said about consumer demand. “I don’t want a property to maintain but I do want access to conveniences that are easily available to me. So you’re seeing a lot of new housing is going where they are also creating, right with the housing, retail businesses, or at least retail businesses they can walk to.”
As times change, so do consumer tastes, Campbell noted. He mentioned video stores, which once dominated the retail landscape, as a type of retail business that has become obsolete.
“Now you see coffee shops, breweries, wine tasting rooms, and spaces for personal training as some of the services people want,” Campbell said. “Even book stores, and small independent book stores, had made a comeback and were doing OK. Now COVID kind of hit and put the kibosh on that.”
What role COVID will play with the success of small retail businesses moving forward is anyone’s guess, according to Campbell. He did say, however, there is one certainty with one of the former giants in the retail industry.
“There are a couple of businesses where no one knows the real answer to that,” Campbell said. “Do people still want to buy their clothing only online? For example, jewelry stores — are you really just going to buy online or are you going to go into the store with somebody?
“I think there’s a bunch of small retail services that the verdict is still out,” Campbell added. “Chain stores? Absolutely not because people are content to buy online. How long this goes, how it will shift — I think the verdict is still out on a lot of that.”
Other business sectors to benefit from population growth are lawn and garden centers and home improvement stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot, a business that is thriving thanks to both residential growth and COVID-sanctioned quarantine.
“With COVID, people are doing more with their homes,” Campbell said. “They are putting in a pool, getting bigger yards, building fences around their properties or putting in a home office.”
If or when a vaccine is discovered, Campbell says he believes shoppers will rush to support retail businesses.
“There’s a lot of pent-up demand for people to be out and about,” Campbell said. “Take-out dining and outdoor dining have been tremendous, and I feel take-out dining will continue to be used moving forward.”
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