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Retail projects expected to provide economic boom in Exeter Township

READING EAGLE, May 9, 2009

Recession aside, an economic boom is taking shape in a 2-mile stretch of Exeter Township.

Stores in the Exeter Commons shopping center along Perkiomen Avenue are scheduled to begin opening in July, and just down the road, Wal-Mart is nearly doubling its size to become one of the chain’s supercenters.

The two retail sites are expected to bring 800 to 920 jobs to the area.

Exeter officials say the new retail centers could attract even more commercial development.

“We’re very excited about it,” said Troy S. Bingaman, township manager. “I think our residents are going to see a huge benefit.”

Exeter Commons is under construction on 44 acres off Perkiomen Avenue (Route 422) at 47th Street. Target, Lowe’s and Giant stores will anchor the center, which will have 10 other businesses.

The center required $15 million in road improvements, which should be completed before Memorial Day, Bingaman said.

Just over a mile east on Perkiomen Avenue, Wal-Mart is expanding from 114,513 square feet to nearly 215,000. The supercenter will have groceries, a garden center and a tire and auto center.

A Weis grocery store was razed to make room for the expanded Wal-Mart. Company officials have said the building will be ready in July and that the expansion would add up to 200 workers.

Pat J. Adamczyk, administrator at CareerLink Berks County, said it’s a plus for Berks to have stores that are opening and hiring.

The retail, banking and restaurant jobs present a good opportunity to learn customer service skills, Adamczyk said.

“They are fine jobs for some parts of the populations who need to work part time,” she said. “Retail jobs offer a career ladder.”

Exeter Commons is ahead of schedule with 97 percent of the space leased, said Jeremy P. Fogel, president of Ironwood Property Group Inc.

The center’s developer is Exeter JV Associates, a partnership of Ironwood and The Goldenberg Group, both based in Montgomery County.

Target is expected to open in late July; the other tenants will soon follow, Fogel said.

Circuit City had signed a lease for Exeter Commons, but developers terminated that agreement about the time the electronics retailer filed for bankruptcy.

No other tenants have dropped out.

In a down market, other projects are struggling, but Exeter Commons is in a great location, Fogel said.

“It’s the hole in the doughnut. The demand stays strong,” he said. “We’re very excited about this project.”

James M. Mitich, vice president of operations for Lehigh Valley Restaurant Group, Allentown, also stressed the importance of the center’s location. The franchise group, which owns 16 Red Robin restaurants in Pennsylvania, searched the Reading area for about six years looking for the right spot for a Red Robin.

“I think Exeter is a great opportunity,” he said. “It’s a growing area even in this dismal economy.”