Another look at Route 132

With Sears and Kmart on the ropes, Cape Codders should be concerned


Red Xs above indicate some of the businesses which have closed along Route 132 in Hyannis.

On April 2, 2011 Cape Cod Today ran this editorial about the state of the Route 132 “shopping destination” area in Hyannis.  At that time we expressed concern that community leaders were not doing enough to fill the many large, vacant retail stores along 132.  On April 2nd we believed that these vacancies imperiled the very tourist trade that drives the Cape’s economy.  Developments this week make our concern all the stronger.

Sears Holdings operates both the Sears and Kmart brands and is in very deep trouble indeed.  The day after Christmas the corporation announced plans to shutter between 100 and 120 under-performing Sears and Kmart stores after abysmal holiday sales.  As the New York Daily News reported on December 27th, Sears saw a 6 percent decline in holiday sales while Kmart was down 4.4 percent for the holidays. 24/7 Wall Street named Sears one of the ten brands most likely to disappear in 2012. The New York Times today reported that Sears, which has been slow to renovate rundown stores and improve customer service, expects earnings to fall by more than 50 percent in the fourth quarter, far worse than expected.

Although the Sears and Kmarts here are not on the company's list of closings, they may be in the near future since this corporation is on its way to the dust bin of history. When they close the problem on Route 132 will reach a crisis.  Sears Holdings has only listed 79 of the planned 100-120 closings, thus far.

In recent years the news has been replete with stories of retail catastrophes that unraveled at warp speed.  Circuit City, Linens and Things, Borders, Blockbuster and many other chains went into restructuring efforts with the best intentions of survival but were overcome by the market before they could emerge with a winning formula.  If worried vendors slow shipments or demand payment up front a retailer can fly to pieces in a matter of weeks.

Couple this with the restaurants in Hyannis which have shuttered recently; Old Country Buffet, TGIF, Polcari's, Chili's, Hooter's, Mildred's Chowder House, Mitchell's Steak House and others, and you're heading toward a ghost food court of sorts.

So that takes us back to Route 132 in Hyannis, where the two most visible retail properties are the Kmart at Airport Shopping Plaza and the Sears store right across the street at the Cape Cod Mall. 

What if we lose both Sears and Kmart?

What would YOU like to see on Route 132 Hyannis?
Crate & Barrel, Lord & Taylor, Saks 5th Ave, Target, Ikea, Wal-Mart, Kohl’s or an Apple Store? Vote in our POLL HERE and let your voice be heard.
What would the loss of Kmart and Sears mean for the Cape?  In the case of Sears, probably not all that much except people will need to find a new source of easy credit for appliances.  There’s not much else in a Sears that you can’t get at Target or Wal-Mart. 

If Kmart were to go, on the other hand, it would be a difficult thing for families and lower-income families that absolutely depend on Kmart for affordable products.  Failing a long drive to Falmouth’s Wal-Mart, there isn’t anything else on the Cape that compares to Kmart. 

Were Kmart to close, we would think it a no-brainer for Wal-Mart to take over that space at the Airport Plaza.  If Wal-Mart stayed within the current footprint of the building there isn’t much that the Cape Cod Commission or the Town of Barnstable could do to stop Wal-Mart’s arrival.

But what of the Sears store?  Our top two choices for that property would be Target or Kohl’s.  We don’t have anything comparable to these stores on the Cape so one of them might make a terrific addition to the Cape Cod Mall.

Route 132 still bleak

The rest of the 132 corridor is still looking sad.  The Sports Authority took over the former Filene’s Basement store at the Airport Plaza, though that’s not quite the “destination” that a Kohl’s might be.  Stop and Shop is building a new store at the foot of Bearse’s Way.  When that store opens, then we’ll have a vacant supermarket at Southwind Plaza to compliment the vacant Borders.  If we’re fortunate, perhaps Southwind will be able to attract a Market Basket store to finally bring worthy competition to Stop and Shop in Hyannis.

Airport Plaza still has the former Filene’s furniture stores – in the old theatre building – standing vacant.  The never-occupied building erected for Circuit City still grows weeds next door to McDonald’s.  The Festival at Hyannis (think Shaw’s Market and PetSmart) is looking like a ghost town with more vacant storefronts.

What other stores might help in making Route 132 the shopping destination that it once was?  In addition to the big-box retailers named above, perhaps a few high-end clothing or home good stores would help.  How many professional women buy their clothing off-Cape because they can’t find reasonable prices on high end apparel in the mid-Cape area?  How many yuppies are “forced” to buy from Ikea or Crate & Barrel over the web or by trekking off-Cape?

In our April 2nd editorial we suggested that an Apple store might be a good addition to Route 132.  That started some howling from the local independent Apple resellers.  Sad as it is, an Apple “company store” is a totally different experience than one of the wannabe Apple retailers we have now – and who appear to be quite the destination for burglars more so than the shoppers we need to anchor the mid-Cape as our shopping destination. How many Cape Codders drive right past Hyannis to visit the Apple store in Hingham because they want the “pure” Apple experience?

Speaking of crime, in April we cited street crime as one of the two biggest strikes against Hyannis’ business community.  We are pleased to tip our hat to the Barnstable Police street crimes unit for some excellent work in “putting a bite on crime” this past year. 

Chamber and town fail to lead

If ever we needed an effective Hyannis Area Chamber of Commerce as well as a useful Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce it is in this situation.  The chambers should be leading the charge to recruit national retailers to the Route 132 corridor.  Sadly, that’s not what chambers of commerce usually do – they typically dig a moat around existing businesses and man the parapets to keep away new competition. 

Surely the Town of Barnstable could take a lead on this.  Not only would this improve local employment prospects, it would bring more people into the Hyannis area to spend their money.  It would also give the town government a whole new group of businesses to shake down for the privilege of doing business in Barnstable. 

Why 132 matters

Whether we like it or not, Hyannis is the retail anchor of Cape Cod’s tourist economy and Route 132 is the epicenter of retail activity in Hyannis.  If our retail anchor is not strong, the entire Cape’s economy can suffer as a result.

One can shop at a Target in Wareham or a Kohl’s in Plymouth.  Wal-Mart can be shopped in Falmouth and Wareham.  There are plenty of retail choices better than those offered in Hyannis within an hour’s drive from most of Cape Cod’s population. 

Anyone who has visited the 132 corridor on a rainy summer’s day knows that the tourists all head for the malls when the skies open up.  If 132 doesn’t offer appealing retail choices, those tourists might stay at home – or visit an area with nicer shopping opportunities.

For the year-round residents, Route 132 must maintain a solid base of national retailers the Cape Codders want to shop.  If they fail to achieve this, more folks will just drive on to Wareham and Plymouth to do their shopping. 

CapeCodToday.com welcomes thoughtful comments and the varied opinions of our readers. We are in no way obligated to post or allow comments that our moderators deem inappropriate. We reserve the right to delete comments we perceive as profane, vulgar, threatening, offensive, racially-biased, homophobic, slanderous, hateful or just plain rude. Commenters may not attack or insult other commenters, readers or writers. Commenters who persist in posting inappropriate comments will be banned from commenting on CapeCodToday.com.