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CHICAGO-Nearly 350 members of the retail industry gathered in the grand ballroom of Navy Pier Thursday for the ICSC 2005 Midwest Retailers Lunch and Roundtable Discussions. Richard Wolf, senior leasing representative with Urban Retail Properties Co., moderated the event.

As a microphone passed from table to table, retailers told of their ideal locations in regard to square footage, consumer demographics and retail neighbors. Represented retailers included Sam’s Wine and Spirits, Home Depot, Walgreens, 7-Eleven, CVS, Great Clips, Charming Shoppes, Dominick’s, Starbucks, TJ Maxx, Hallmark Cards, Staples, Export Fitness, Factory Card and Party Outlet, Fitness 19, Quiznos, Panera Bread, JoS A. Banks, Jimmy Johns, Wow!, Pot Belly Sandwich Works, Homemade Pizza, Noodles & Co., and Dunkin’ Brands. Every retailer in attendance articulated interest in Windy-City expansions.

Expressing the most aggressive expansion plans for the Chicago market, Dunkin’ Brands development manager James Weidling said the company is planning 50 new Chicago locations this year, 60 next year, and 70 in 2007. These locations include Dunkin’ Donuts shops as well as co-retailed shops. “We consider Chicago a high-growth market,” Weidling said. “We’re looking everywhere; there are a number of holes in the market.” The company is also looking to expand in several other Illinois’ cities including Rockford, Decatur, Bloomington/Normal and Springfield.

While Greg Clarke, real estate director with Staples Inc., joked that the company’s ideal store is “20,390 sf, 125 sf of frontage and 10 to one parking,” he said that finding locations in the city has been increasingly difficult. “We’re the new kids on the block in Chicago,” Clarke said. “The more dense the area, the more difficult it is for us. We haven’t had the opportunity to buy land in Chicago, but we would be interested.”

Hallmark Cards real estate manager Andrea Weisberg said the greeting card retailer is looking to change its store concept. Unlike other retailers who expressed interest in locating to emerging markets, Weisberg said Hallmark is better served in mature locations. Because many of Hallmark’s stores are owned by independent licensed retailers, Weisberg said owners often add their own collections to the inventory. With a new store concept, the company is “trying to pull back the reigns without trying to upset anyone too much,” Weisberg said. “We’re not your grandmother’s store anymore.”

Supporting retailer intentions to grow in a healthy market, a Q2 report by CB Richard Ellis indicates that Chicago’s retail arena continues to perform positively. Fueled by strong leasing activity, the overall vacancy for the Chicagoland market posted at 7.78%, down from 8.12% during the same time last year.

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