When Dr. Lauren Capozza opened her pediatric dentistry practice in Loveland a year ago, the timing, in the middle of the pandemic, could not have been worse.
“We were very, very nervous when dentists were shut down last spring," she said. "I was in the midst of constructing a dental business. It was very, very anxiety-producing.”
However, she did her homework when it came to deciding where to open the practice. She knew the location had to be kid-friendly and kid-accessible. Capozza concentrated her search on retail strip centers.
“I spent a few months looking for properties and really wanted a place where I could have plenty of parking for my patients, easy visibility, and so I was really attracted to retail spaces,” said Capozza, who has been a dentist for seven years.
And, the space is available. Recent data indicates the vacancy rate in strip centers rose to 6.5 percent nationally in 2020. That has created a growing trend of utilizing shuttered retail spaces for medical and other businesses, according to Joshua Rothstein, a listing specialist for OnSite Retail Group. He said the change is giving some commercial property owners new hope.
“Retail isn’t really dying. It’s just shifting,” said Rothstein, who has listings in the Loveland retail strip center.
Capozza agreed. She said she noticed the trend among other medical professionals.
“Especially in pediatrics, I feel like more and more people are going into retail space,” she said. The location she selected also has a pediatrician, chiropractor, is close to major pharmacy retailers and an urgent care.
“It’s visibility. You know, people see it when they go to Kroger or something and then the next time they need some type of medical care, they remember,” said Jordyn Mandle, vice president of operations with Cincinnati-based CareFirst Urgent Care.
The company has 27 locations across the Tristate, including locations in Columbus and Las Vegas. Mandle, who is also a nurse practitioner, said the majority of the locations are in retail strip centers.
Currently, the recent surge in the delta variant of COVID-19 has driven up visits to their facilities.
“It is definitely taking a turn upward again, really in the past one to two weeks. We’re starting to see our patient volumes double, triple,” Mandle said.
Meanwhile, the rise in strip center vacancies is not new. A number of retailers have struggled to compete against the growing preference of online shopping. The trend has increased during the pandemic. Rothstein said some refer to it as the "Amazon-effect."
“The biggest defense to the Amazon-effect is to find the tenants that are Amazon-proof,” he said. “Those are the goods and service-oriented tenants, the folks who sell things that you can’t buy on Amazon.”
Like medical services.
"The more that you can think outside of the box and find the users that aren’t traditionally retail-oriented, but still want to be well-located, then the vacancy rate will start to drop, and the occupancy rate starts to rise,” said Rothstein.
For Capozza, the high visibility of the retail strip center is working, in spite of the pandemic.
“I’ve surpassed where I wanted to be even a year in, so we’re very happy," she said. "We do continue to grow, and we hope to expand our days even further as we move ahead.”