The good news this month is that our neighborhood retail base is going to get a tremendous shot in the arm.

The bad news is that the situation is still in such disrepair that we have to get excited about someone opening an office supply warehouse store.

OfficeMax, which made its reputation by offering the world a dozen ball-point pens for 99 cents, will join the year-old Target as a tenant at the Cityplace development near Central Expressway. An official for the company that handles the leasing at Cityplace expects the chain to break ground sometime this month.

This is, of course, welcome news. Everyone has been talking about neighborhood retail during the past 12 months, but few seem to be able to do anything about it. What we had instead was rumor, innuendo and gossip – whether it was about the dozens of well-known, nationally-recognized, truly nifty stores that were going to move into the old Dr Pepper building or whether it was about the Henderson-Ross intersection, which was going to turn into the next trendy hot spot for East Dallas retail.

What we had instead was the M.E. Moses at Hillside Village turning into an Amber’s, and Paperbacks Plus playing musical locations. This is hardly the stuff that dreams are made of – or gives us encouragement about what will fill the renovated Lakewood Shopping Center.

But something has been happening, and happening so quietly that even I (Mr. Let’s Whine About Retail) almost missed it.

The development – both in terms of breaking ground and in changing attitudes and perceptions – can be traced to Target’s decision to build a store at Cityplace when everyone else thought the only thing that would work there were crack houses.

“Target really opened some people’s eyes,” says Roger Gault, the vice president for development with Cityplace Co., the development’s leasing agent.

“When they went in there, they showed everyone else that retail would work in that area. It really fills a niche.”

And it has been working. Target’s customer surveys show that shoppers come from East Dallas, Oak Lawn, the Park Cities, Fair Park and South Dallas. This is a mix that apparently has been as profitable as it has been unique, for Gault reports that Target has exceeded its sales projections for the store.

Those sales figures please two groups of people: Target executives, and those of us who live here who have always insisted that neighborhood residents will go to a discount department store just like people who live in North Dallas will go to one.

Best yet, the OfficeMax addition could be the beginning of more good news. Gault didn’t name names, and the last thing I want to do is to spread more rumor, innuendo and gossip. Yet a number of people insist that several more national chains – among them, a discount apparel house, a shoe store, and a women’s clothing store – are all but signed.

If this happens (and be aware that real estate people and developers have been known to exaggerate), then the retail situation in East Dallas could look better than it has in at least a decade.

For once, the real estate pack mentality – let’s all build shopping centers one the same corner – will pay off for us. If Cityplace gets hot, then everyone will want to be near Cityplace. And you can’t get much nearer to Cityplace than Lakewood and East Dallas.

And that would be the best news of all.


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