CLAYTON — As retail reeled during the coronavirus pandemic, a group of local investors kept buying shopping centers.
MRP Capital Group, a Clayton private equity real estate firm, buys Walmart “shadow” centers — shopping strips located near the giant discount retailer — in small towns overlooked by other real estate investors. And despite the pandemic walloping traditional brick-and-mortar retail, the firm is booming. It raised $105 million to buy 42 properties over the past year and aims to keep buying. It’s an example of a retail model that’s working, even as shoppers go online and the pandemic continues to hit storefronts.
“It’s kind of the new Main Street where Walmart is the center of these communities. It’s where everybody goes grocery shopping and makes other purchases,” said managing partner Jordan Breck. “Everything that they can’t do at a Walmart, they can do with our centers.”
Many brick-and-mortar retailers struggled during the pandemic. Foot traffic died. Some stores had to close for a while. Rent still came due. Shoppers, meanwhile, headed online to make purchases.
But where some retailers faltered, others thrived. The DIY crowd flocked to hardware and home improvement stores. Automotive businesses like car washes and repair shops have even been looking to expand. And the pandemic delivered a “sales windfall” to the grocery industry, said Mike Swearngin, senior vice president of commercial real estate firm Pace Properties.