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From department stores to storage: As in Racine, Kenosha's empty Shopko may become self-storage facility
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From department stores to storage: As in Racine, Kenosha's empty Shopko may become self-storage facility

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KENOSHA — In the near future, 52nd Street in Kenosha, once a major thoroughfare dotted with an array of big box department stores, may host a proliferation of storage facilities.

The city Plan Commission on Thursday heard the latest pitch aimed at breathing new life into a dormant building on what still is one of Kenosha’s more highly trafficked corridors.

Representatives with Miami-based Larkspur Acquisitions went before city officials with plans of repurposing the existing Shopko building, 5300 52nd St., into a 98,195-square-foot indoor self-storage facility.

Racine’s former Shopko, 4801 Washington Ave., too is set to become a self-storage facility.

It’s a sign of how American consumerism hasn’t slowed down, since people still have stuff they want to keep even if it isn’t in their home, even as department stores have been closing left and right as more shoppers go online rather than to brick-and-mortar locations.

In 2010, nationwide department store revenue was consistently above $15 billion per month, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2019, no month saw more than $11.8 billion in revenue. The pandemic lowered revenues further.

According to data collection from Vox.com, there were zero “major” department store bankruptcies in 2015 and 2016, then one in 2017, two in 2018, one in 2019 and then six in 2020, including J.C. Penney. Wisconsin-based Shopko, which reported a revenue of $3.3 billion in 2018, reported going into bankruptcy in 2019 and closed the last of its stores that summer.

Racine’s Shopko building sold for $2.67 million in August, 15 months after the store closed. Cogent Capital Group, based in Wilmette, Illinois, plans to turn it into a self-storage facility with the capability for tenants to drive into the building. It is expected to open in spring 2022 at the earliest.

‘Self-storage road’

The proposed business to replace the 52nd Street Shopko has been referred to as Kenosha Self Storage in documents submitted to city officials, but the naming could change.

“The facility will most likely be branded by a nationally recognized self-storage operator, ensuring ‘best in class’ management and operation,” Larkspur representatives wrote in a business plan.

Larkspur’s plans for the Shopko site come on the heels of the forthcoming conversion of the former Kmart, 4100 52nd St., into a similar business operated by Devon Self Storage, which was announced earlier this year. Two years ago, U-Haul took over the entire building that housed the original Walmart at 4404 52nd St.

Shopko, which closed all of its department stores amid bankruptcy and spun off its optical businesses, shuttered in 2019. Kmart, which has been struggling for years but still maintains a small footprint elsewhere in the U.S., closed its Kenosha store last year.

The number of planned self-storage and trucking facilities in such a short proximity was not lost on city officials as the latest Shopko proposal was discussed in depth at Thursday’s meeting.

Jan Michalski

Michalski

“My concern is 52nd Street is going to become ‘self-storage road,’” said Alderman Jan Michalski, who sits on the Plan Commission. “This is a major thoroughfare into the city.”

In particular, Michalski and others had expressed hope a grocery store, which is lacking in the area, would assume one of the empty big box spaces.

Other city officials, however, pointed to the market realities and said they were happy to see businesses willing to freshen up abandoned buildings and reducing blight.

Dominic Ruffalo

Ruffalo

“I’ve been waiting for a grocery store to come in. But guess what? They’re not coming,” said Alderman Dominic Ruffalo, who represents the area surrounding the Shopko site. “I’m all for it. I don’t want any vacant buildings in the 16th District.”

Larkspur’s pitch to city officials for the Shopko site was preliminary and will be coming back to the Plan Commission in a month.

Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian was joined Friday morning, July 9, 2021, by several state officials and developers for the planned Uptown Lofts, which is expected to break ground this fall with an eye on completion in 2022.

The plan was first unveiled last November in the wake of the destruction and riots in Uptown following the officer-involved shooting of Jacob Blake — and since that time, it has progressed to not only include 107 apartments and townhomes, but also include 20,000-square-feet of retail space in the area on 63rd Street between 22nd and 23rd avenues.

Preliminary details submitted in the company’s operations plan call for 600 to 650 storage units spread across 67,000 to 70,000 square feet of rentable space. Tentatively, the business would operate from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, with customers accessing the interior with key-fobs.

Earlier in the meeting, the commission gave final approval to Devon Self Storage’s plans for the Kmart site. Commissioners have the final say in the issuance of a conditional-use permit for the 120,893-square-foot building.

Devon, which is expected to begin the conversion in the near future, will house 848 storage units within a climate-controlled facility. The company plans a drive-through feature for customers looking to load or unload items at different access points on the property.

Adam Rogan of The Journal Times contributed to this report.

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