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In an era of shrinking footprints for many national retailers as online sales bite into bottom lines, new ground-up shopping centers are hard to come by. Developers who choose to build have to look at the tenant mix carefully in hopes of offering a successful venue over the long haul. That’s the case with the Charleston region’s first new shopping center in several years.

The $40 million Nexton Square project broke ground Thursday on the edge of Summerville, following the surge of thousands of new homes being built or coming to the 4,500-acre Nexton development and other large-scale housing communities under construction nearby in Berkeley County.

While some national tenants could be in the mix, the roster of those already lined up for the 140,000-square-foot retail center includes mainly local businesses. Among those with signed leases are Halls Chophouse, Taco Boy, Fuji Sushi, Optical Impressions, Chatime & Ice Cream Cafe, The Bicycle Shoppe and Diamond Nails. Toast and Cove restaurants are on the way, too, according to Sam Mustafa with Charleston Hospitality Group. 

“Retail has changed, and the shopping center’s offerings are mostly service-oriented,” said Charles Fitzhenry, leasing director for developer RealtyLink of North Charleston. “It’s a lot of things you can’t buy online. It’s online-sales-resistant retailers.” He said it’s important to have usual retailers such as clothing or shoe stores, but the makeup of shopping centers is changing.

“The way you recruit is totally different from the way it was five years ago,” Fitzhenry said. “We are trying to create a center that will offer an experience. It’s really kind of interactive.” The 17-acre development at U.S. Highway 17A and Brighton Park Boulevard will be made up of different buildings rather than one large enclosed shopping area. It will focus on outdoor spaces and courtyards, offering weekend entertainment and well-lit walkways for nearby hotel visitors and residents of the Nexton community.

It may even have office tenants for small companies that want to pop out for a bite to eat and stop by the dry cleaner in the shopping center, Fitzhenry said. “Not everybody wants to be in an office building,” he said.

So far, about 25,000 square feet have been spoken for. The anchor tenant hasn’t been announced, but Fitzhenry said that’s expected in the next couple of months. 

Bill Hall, owner of Halls Chophouse steak restaurant in downtown Charleston, said he has been following the Nexton development for the past four years and believes the time has come to bring a white-table-cloth restaurant to the metro area’s expanding western suburbs. “This is a booming area,” Hall said. “I can’t wait until a year from now to have a glass of champagne when we open.” His stand-alone restaurant will include an outdoor patio and fireplace along with three private rooms for corporate functions. 

Summerville Mayor Wiley Johnson called the project a big deal for the town. The retail center is not expected to cut into the downtown shopping experience, he said. “You aren’t going to be able to recreate downtown Summerville,” Wiley said. “It’s special. I think this just adds to the town.”

Nexton officials say the burgeoning development will be able to support the new retail complex. “By the time it opens next year, we will have thousands of new residents,” said Cassie Cataline, marketing director for Nexton.