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Strip malls: they are the future, says the builder of Western Hills Center.

Frank LaFayette thinks the days of big indoor shopping malls springing up are just about over.

"Oh, you may see a few more built in certain places," said LaFayette, and he's not predicting that established ones will fail but he says, new ones are too costly to build.

"Anymore, people are very educated about the value of their land," he said. A big center can't buy the acreage it needs for stores and parking, then construct the buildings with huge common areas and still be able to charge low enough rent so entrepreneurs can make a profit while competing with non-mall stores.

"So, what do you see going in now? Strip malls," he says, answering his own question.

Perhaps it's not surprising that LaFayette likes strip malls--he is completing the second phase of his $600,000 strip mall at Fifth and Western in Wenatchee called Western Hills Center.

Before he built his first phase in 1985, LaFayette researched strip malls in towns and cities all the way to the Mexican border. He found them springing up everywhere, from residential sections to adjacent to business districts, wherever developers could find a good piece of land. In Las Vegas alone, he found 163 strip malls.

Strip malls can be built on smaller pieces of land, but still supply the parking that businesses need. They also don't have the expensive central corridor to pay for and maintain, cutting costs to individual merchants. Yet a good tenant mix can attract customers from the neighborhood, or adjacent towns. LaFayette's tenants include Abby's Pizza, Earth Games video arcade, a Mexican specialty store, a hair styling salon, a comic book store, a television store, a tanning parlor and others.

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"What people here are offering is a personal touch. Often, they know their customers or get to know them after a few visits. For the small business who would tend to get lost on Wenatchee Avenue, we offer a sense of identification up here."

The rapid home building in the area has created a new pool of customers for the small businesses and LaFayette has found that Fifth and Western are used by commuters wishing to avoid the downtown.

Sitting in the comfortable new 4,000 square foot Abby's Pizza which occupies one corner of his newest addition, LaFayette described the process that led him to begin a new venture at a time in life when other men are thinking of retirement.

LaFayette has spent his life in retail, growing up in his parent's store. "I never lived in a full-fledged house until I moved out to live with my sister. Those were the Depression years when times were really tight. There just was no money."
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Title Annotation:BACK IN THE DAY: April 1988
Publication:Wenatchee Business Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2008
Words:450
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