If retail follows population, it’s no surprise that two businesses—with long histories in Baton Rouge—moving down one road could spark debate about a city’s future.
As Business Report details in a feature from the current issue, Kirk’s Tires and Accessories moved in October from 9555 Airline Highway to 11740 Airline Highway south of Interstate 12. That same month, Salsbury’s Dodge, located at 9950 Airline Highway, reportedly also acquired land south of Interstate 12 and has plans to move within the next five years.
While these transplanting businesses represent only a fraction of the dozens of retailers along Airline Highway, north of Interstate 12 and south of the Cortana Mall, their movement tells a bigger story, says Joey Canella, a senior adviser of commercial real estate brokerage with Sperry Van Ness | Graham, Langlois and Legendre.
“People think this shift happened when Woman’s Hospital moved, but it started before then. It’s been coming for the last 20 to 30 years. As the population moves south down Airline and with the growth of the Prairieville area, retailers are looking at the demographics, traffic counts and traffic flow and planning accordingly,” Canella says. “With Kirk’s moving out, I think that part of Airline is going to look similar to what Florida Boulevard looks like. A higher vacancy. And I don’t think you will see a lot of development in that area.”
Florida Boulevard is now a hodgepodge of vacant buildings, generational family businesses, refurbished structures, a scattering of fast food restaurants and random car dealerships. But it wasn’t always that way.
Fifty years ago, Bon Marche on Florida was a retail hotspot and businesses surrounded the shopping mecca. However, it shuttered not long after Cortana Mall opened in 1976 and is now an office park. The Cortana Mall replaced Bon Marche as a shopping hub. It was centrally located between Florida Boulevard and Airline Highway and minutes from the heavily populated subdivisions, Sherwood Forest, Broadmoor and Tara. Car dealerships lined Florida Boulevard and Airline Highway, and Woman’s Hospital was located between it all.
But with the gradual decline of public schools in East Baton Rouge Parish, along with available land and cheaper housing in the southern part of Baton Rouge and in Ascension and Livingston parishes, and the Mall of Louisiana opening in 1997, people began to move south and east, and big box retailers, restaurants and business followed. Cortana Mall is still open but is more of an inner-city shopping mall, lacking vibrant anchors and the suburban shoppers it once hosted. There are booming box stores in its perimeter, like Walmart; Sam’s Club; Bed, Bath and Beyond; and Old Navy, but three shuttered restaurants with boarded-up windows face Airline Highway.