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January 7, 2020

Renys plans to open 18th store this year

Photo / Maureen Milliken Renys bought its store at 86 Front St. in Bath in November, where the company had been leasing space since 1973. The chain will likely open an 18th store this year, John Reny said.

Renys will likely open an 18th store this year, in vacant shopping mall space, somewhere in "central Maine."

John Reny, R.H. Reny Co. president, told Mainebiz that the Newcastle-based department store chain is "looking at a couple of locations" for an 18th store, "and we're pretty certain we're going to open one this year."  

A deal hasn't been completed, so he wouldn't say where in central Maine the store might be. But it will likely be at a shopping mall, rather than a downtown. Many of the chains older stores are in downtown locations, some occupying several buildings.

While the company, which employs around 500, believes in being an economic catalyst to Maine's small downtowns, "there just isn't that much property available that fits," he said. Renys needs 25,000 square feet for a store, and most available downtown property is too small. "People will say, 'Hey, we have 2,500 square feet,' but that's not what we need," he said.

On the other hand, a lot of retail space in shopping centers around the state is becoming available, as large chain stores like Sears and Kmart close. That's a model the store has been following with a lot of its recent openings.

The 17th store opened in 2016, in a Windham shopping center, in space formerly occupied by Big Lots. The Topsham and Belfast stores are also in shopping centers.

A Bath renovation

An old store is also getting some new attention. In November, Renys bought the building it's been leasing in Bath since 1973. It will renovate it using historic preservation tax credits.

Reny said some historic elements of the 86 Front St. building will be preserved, like the inlaid "Percy's" from the clothing store that occupied the building when it was first constructed, and the original tin ceilings will be brought back to life. Access will be improved with an elevator, and LED lights will be added, and bathrooms upgraded.

The former Percy building, built in 1852, was owned by Sagadahock Real Estate Association, which once owned 20 properties in town, but has sold most of them the last two years.The company bought the 21,372-square-foot Bath building for $1 million on Nov. 26. Sylas Hatch and TC Haffenreffer from NAI The Dunham Group brokered the sale.

When the Bath store opened, it was the eighth for the company that was started by Reny's father, R.H. Reny, in Damariscotta in 1949. Many of the earlier stores are still in the downtown locations where they started and two have already been renovated using historical renovation tax credits — Damariscotta and Farmington. The company in November was honored by Maine Preservation for its historic renovation work. 

Reny said locating in downtowns, where 11 of the stores are, has been important to the company. "In the beginning, downtown was where you did business," he said. He said the property was also often inexpensive.

The store often found itself "a big fish in a little pond, helping these communities come back."

When they opened the Bath store in 1973, the downtown was in rough shape. "Front Street wasn't that pretty, there were broken windows, you name it," he said. "Folks said we were nuts."

Now, though, "It's a great little downtown."

Shopping center effect

While Renys is looking at more than one location for a new store, he said they'll only open one this year.

"We opened two in one year [Portland and Topsham, in 2011], and we'll never do that again," he said. "We don't have a special team to do it or anything. We just go in and open them."

Just like with the Bath opening, when Renys opened in the Topsham Fair Mall in a former Bradlee's, "People said 'You guys gotta be crazy,'" Reny said. The 32,000-square-foot space was bigger than what they'd done before, and the space had been vacant for a while.

The store there, now in the heart of a busy shopping region, is one of the company's busiest.

"We're so fortunate to have Renys," mall owner John Larson told Mainebiz last year. 

Larson owned the space when Renys first moved in, though it was bought two years ago by his partners. He said the store being at the mall, which he owns the rest of, is a big part of the shopping center's success.

"More than any other retailer, Renys just has so much traffic into its store on a daily basis," he said. The magic formula for retailers is to have a supermarket, where daily traffic puts a lot of eyes on the rest of the shopping center. He said Renys has the same effect.

"Everybody wants them in their community," he said. "In Maine, you couldn't have a better store [in your space]."

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