While it's become commonplace to see empty storefronts and unfilled office spaces at malls and shopping centers in the region, Caste Village is enjoying a near 100-percent occupancy rate.
Located in along Baptist, Weyman and Grove roads, holds historical importance to many area residents and is a shopping haven to many others.
And while it may seem to the casual shopper that there are several vacancies at Caste Village, especially inside the Commons area, many of those spots are primed to be rented to retailers, said Thomas Caste, president of The Royal Mile Company, a third-generation management operation that serves the Caste family properties.
Two remaining vacancies, each about 1,300-square-feet large, are on the main level of the Village, but Caste said that final negotiations with a mobile-phone retailer for one of those spaces is in the process. Another vacancy that opened earlier this year was snatched up by , which leased adjacent space to expand by opening a sushi and hibachi bar.
Although there is almost 6,000 square feet of vacant office space in the Commons area, Caste said that two prospective tenants are in negotiations to occupy nearly 5,000 of it. He would not name the would-be tenants.
While many other shopping centers have “bled with vacancies” because of a nationwide recession, Caste said that Caste Village's tenant base has remained stable and strong.
“We experienced slight turbulence with the recession but nothing like in other parts of the region or country,” he said. “Two of our office vacancies inside the mall (Commons) were caused directly by the recession and battered housing market (mortgage brokers and closing attorneys).”
Despite a bit of a rocky road and uncertainty in the markets, Caste Village's occupancy level never dropped below 88 percent. It is enjoying an occupancy level closer to 95-percent leased now, Caste said.
“Even during the worst of times, we added some top tenants to our mix: the , which chose to relocate from Brentwood Towne Center to expand at Caste Village, and .”
Caste Village's success didn't just happen by chance. The shopping center is accessible from several nearby housing complexes and has a mix of multi-generational tenants and national retailers. But what's really setting it apart from other shopping destinations are community events, like and a , and the Castes' family-owned mission.
Julie Mancine, owner of , is one of the newer tenants at Caste Village. Occupying the former Gallery of Treats space, Mancine started her business nine months ago where the longtime hometown favorite left off. She said that Caste's hands-on managing is one of the main reasons that she brought her business there.
“Growing up, I was always at Caste Village,” she said. “When Gallery of Treats closed, it was a huge disappointment, not only for me but for everyone in the area.
“But it was a potential goldmine. (Caste) wants you to succeed.”
Julie's Treats is strategically situated between a U.S. Postal Service branch and the entrance to the Caste Commons—an ideal spot for indoor and outdoor traffic—with an open end inside the Commons.
“The location is wonderful,” Mancine said. “I started the store without a loan. After a winter of struggling, we started to do well.”
On average, tenants stay at Caste Village for more than 20 years. Some, like , have been at the center for much longer.
What started out as a tiny, 300-square-feet shoe store more than 50 years ago has grown into a 6,500-square-feet destination for outerwear, work clothing and boots.
“It's fantastic here,” said Nick Costanzo, who works at the store and is part of the family lineage. “It's been here so long that everybody knows each other. It's all family-owned businesses. There really aren't any chains here.”
Those family-owned businesses that have thrived and grown over the decades are the backbone of Caste Village, many of the owners hailing right from Whitehall, Caste said.
“Many new developments slap the 'Town Center' on their names, but they are anything but,” he said. “Our location, in a valley, surrounded by rooftops, with a solid demographic of hard-working people and families helped shape Caste Village as a town center.