The Gwinnett Place area has lost one of its major retailers — and may be about to gain a pre-owned car sales business in its place — as the continues to feel the affects of changes within the retail industry.
Fry’s Electronics has quietly closed its store on Commerce Avenue near Gwinnett Place Mall in unincorporated Duluth. Any mention of the store has also been removed from the retailer’s website.
“This location is now closed,” a sign on the store’s front door states. “We appreciate your patronage over the past 35 years.”
The site may not be empty for long, however. Documents included in the agenda packet for the Gwinnett Planning Commission’s February meeting show a proposal from AM Realty GA LLC is already being put forth for a new use for the site.
County tax records show AM Realty GA LLC purchased the site form Button Declaration LP on Nov. 4 for $18,000.
“Applicant purchased the (site) last month and will make modifications to convert the use from the retail Fry’s Electronics to a pre-owned automobile sales facility,” AM Realty attorney Ellen Smith wrote in a Dec. 4 letter to county officials.
A change in conditions is being sought to allow car sales to take place at the site. In 1991, county officials placed conditions on development in the Gwinnett Place Mall area. One of those conditions, referred to as “Condition 3” by the developer, limited auto sales in the area to specific spots identified on an existing map drawn up in 1988.
Smith said part of the Fry’s parking lot overlapped with an approved auto sales property, and the property owner is seeking a “clean up” action by county officials to allow the entire site to be used for car sales and service.
“This use is permitted in C-3 under The Unified Development Ordinance of Gwinnett County, Georgia (the “UDO”), but out of an abundance of caution, Applicant seeks in this Application to add the Property to the Auto Sales Rezoning Exhibit for purposes of ensuring compliance with Condition 3 above,” Smith said.
“There will be no physical change to the existing parking lot or curbing on the property; instead, the only visible change to the property will be pipe rail and gate for security.”
There are several car dealerships adjacent to or north of the Fry’s site, and some of those dealerships have been using portions of the mall’s parking lot to store surplus vehicles.
Meanwhile, with the Duluth store’s closure, Fry’s is now down to only one store left in Georgia, according to the company’s website. That store is located in Milton.
Customers had predicted the Duluth store’s likely closure as they left reviews on Google in recent months. Reviews dating back to October cited empty shelves, few employees and a “ghost town”-like atmosphere in the store.
Fry’s followers a string of other major retailers that have closed stores in the Gwinnett Place area in recent years, including Toys ‘R Us and H.H. Gregg.
Although the Gwinnett Place area’s namesake mall has struggled with a high vacancy rate, the area itself has largely done better at replacing departing retailers.
Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District officials, who have attributed the loss of major retailers in the past to a shift by consumers toward online shopping, have often cited a high occupancy rate for shopping centers surrounding the mall.
At the same time, however, CID officials have also conceded that the mall’s struggles have been a sore spot that has held back interest from many developers in redeveloping the area.
But the mall’s struggles haven’t totally shut down developers interest in the area.
After Sears announced plans to close its location at the mall closed in 2018, it was quickly sold to residential developer Northwood Raven. The developer has been working on its plans for redeveloping the site, which includes a portion of the parking area at the mall.
The mall itself has been put on the market for sale although its three main anchors — Macy’s, Mega Mart and Beauty Master — each own their respective storefronts at the mall, as well as portions of the mall parking lot that adjoin those storefronts.
Meanwhile, the Gwinnett Prado site near the mall is slated to undergo a major redevelopment that will see much of the shopping center torn down and replaced with new restaurants, retail and residential components.