River North retail sector shows signs of improvement

Vacancy drops to 19.3 percent from 22 percent, outstrips Loop

3 West Chicago Ave, Whole Foods
3 West Chicago Ave (Google Maps, iStock)

River North’s retail sector is on the upswing.

A report from Chicago-based Stone Real Estate found the vacancy rate for retail space in the Near North Side neighborhood dropped to 19.3 percent, down from 22 percent a year ago, Crain’s reported. While the vacancy rate is still high, the year-over-year drop signifies the market is stabilizing.

The Stone report, which didn’t have pre-pandemic figures, found that restaurants and bars account for almost 40 percent of all retail space in River North and are performing better there than in other neighborhoods, partly due to the large residential population.

Stone Principal John Vance, who co-authored the report with Noah O’Neill, said retail in neighborhoods such the Loop hasn’t been as strong because it relies heavily on office workers for business. With many companies still offering employees the opportunity to work remotely, restaurants in the business district haven’t been nearly as bustling as they were before the pandemic. Retail vacancy in the Loop rose to 27.4 percent this year, up from 26.3 percent a year ago.

“River North in comparison to the Loop has a much broader customer base than the Loop,” Vance told the outlet.

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While the pandemic took out River North establishments such as the Rainforest Cafe and Lawry’s Prime Rib, leasing has picked back up over the past nine months. Gordon Ramsay Burger moved into the former Wahlburgers at 2 East Ontario Street, Boka Restaurant Group plans to open a restaurant on North Wells Street and Yardbird Table & Bar is moving into the former P.F. Chang’s at 530 Wabash Avenue.

Target also inked a deal for 17,000 square feet on North LaSalle Drive, while Whole Foods Market vacated one store and expanded to a new 66,000-square-foot location in the One Chicago development.

The River North retail market totals about 3.4 million square feet. Restaurants and bars make up the largest portion of the retail sector, followed by designers and art galleries, which take up about 10 percent of the retail space.

— Victoria Pruitt

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