The real estate market for retailers in southern Maine continues to be tight, reflected in vacancy rates that are a third of the national average. Lease rates, too, appear to be climbing, an indication that bricks-and-mortar stores are still coveted properties, despite the siphoning of shoppers to online sites.

Peter Harrington, a retail broker with Malone Commercial Properties, noted in his presentation at the Maine Real Estate and Development Association forecasting conference that national vacancy rates in 2016 for retail space hovered at just over 11 percent, while vacancy rates in Greater Portland were 3.44 percent.

Those same properties were commanding lease rates of $17.50 per square foot, a sizable jump from the $14.77 retailers paid in 2015.

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Helping to drive those numbers was increasing activity in the Old Port, which experienced nearly zero vacancies last year. Harrington pointed out that national retailers have landed on Middle Street, “creating a renaissance,” with Urban Outfitters moving there in 2011, followed by Anthropologie in 2014 and the expected opening this year of West Elm, a subsidiary of Williams-Sonoma that sells furniture and housewares.

The Maine Mall is also doing well, at near capacity. Based on information from the retailers there, Harrington said overall holiday sales were expected to be 4 percent to 6 percent higher than in 2015.

Among the changes there: the former Gap an Lane Bryant spaces will be taken over by H&M and that retailer’s current smaller space will be filled soon. Harrington said there are several parties interested in leasing the former Sports Authority store.

He also noted that traditional department stores such as Macy’s, Kmart and Sears are in transition, as their parent companies announce closures across the country. Other retailers, supermarkets, specialty food stores, gyms and other sorts of retailers are interested in the former department store space, which Harrington said could be good for malls because the new businesses would likely generate more foot traffic.

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