Monday, November 26, 2018

[ALERT] Williamsburg Village Shopping Center Sold, Redevelopment Likely

A local investment firm has purchased Williamsburg Village shopping center with plans to redevelop it, potentially into a mixed-use project.  The center, which dates from the mid-60s, is located at the corner of Clairmont and Briarcliff Roads, just off I-85 in unincorporated DeKalb County. Not included in the sale were the freestanding Popeyes restaurant at the corner of Briarcliff & Clairmont or the Audubon Briarcliff apartment community, located along the backside of the property. 
The center and its former A&P as seen from Clairmont Road entrance 
Most notably, the center was once anchored by a Centennial-style A&P grocery store which opened in 1965.  The center was also home to the original location of Oxford Books, Atlanta's beloved independent bookshop that later relocated much of their operations to Buckhead before closing in 1997.  Oxford Books was owned by Rupert LeCraw, brother of real estate magnate Julian LeCraw who developed Williamsburg Village shopping center.  

These days the center is likely best known as being home to the neighborhood Post Office as well as popular Ethiopian restaurant Desta. Most neighbors also know it as being one of the worst parking lots in the area.

Stein Investment Group is the firm behind the acquisition.  While many might not make the connection, Stein Investment's primary holdings are in self-storage facilities, specifically The Space Shop, a brand they launched a few years ago, and one that they both build new and buy and convert.  The firm currently has fifteen locations open or coming soon in the southeast, including their newest in metro Atlanta on Clairmont Road in Chamblee.

A principal with Stein Investment indicated to ToNeTo Atlanta that his firm does not intend to include any self-storage as part of the center's redevelopment.  Instead, the firm hopes to return the center to its glory days as an active center, perhaps anchored by a small grocer, that would serve as an amenity for the neighborhood.  [Trader Joe's has previously stated they have no intention of opening any additional Atlanta area stores so they are likely not an option.] 

Further complicating the potential search for the neighborhood market are the recent closures of Earth Fare at Emory Point, The Fresh Market at Brighten Park and planned closure of Whole Foods Market at the corner of Briarcliff & LaVista Roads.  The Earth Fare and Fresh Market spaces remain vacant, while the Whole Foods site is reportedly being eyed for multi-family redevelopment.  

The grade also changes significantly between the Clairmont and Briarcliff Road sides of the center and that will likely need to be altered for a redevelopment to take shape.  

The grade change that hides the Post Office from Clairmont Road 

It's also worth nothing that the QuikTrip catty-corner from Williamsburg Village replaced Ed's IGA, a market that under various banners had served the neighborhood for decades.  Village Market, a nice neighborhood market once occupied the former Ed's IGA in Vista Grove shopping center on LaVista Road, but it was perhaps ahead of its time and closed soon after opening, now more than ten years ago.  The former grocery space is today largely occupied by Napoleon's, a popular restaurant, and The Vista Room, their private events venue.  

The planned redevelopment of Williamsburg Village could give hope to the residents of East Cobb who for years have been waiting for a redevelopment of their own at Sprayberry Crossing shopping center.  The center, built in 1978, until the mid/late 90s was anchored by both a Bruno's grocery store and a Revco drugstore, but today is home to a number of religious organizations and a large thrift store, and is an eyesore for all.  

Given the Williamsburg deal only recently closed and the complexity that comes with multiple tenants, some with plenty of "term" (many years on existing leases) left, Stein has not yet committed to have the redevelopment go in any certain direction but the firm wants the neighborhood to be "proud" of the result.  The USPS and Bench Warmers Sports Grill are among those with the longest term left.  

The redevelopment could also include small shop space, restaurants, and perhaps some multi-family units as well.  The timetable for the redevelopment is fluid given the situation with existing tenant leases.  The property is already zoned C-1.  

Julian LeCraw & Company developed the center back in 1965, but after Julian's death in late 2016 at age 86, the center was passed to relatives, some 60 of them, according to the principal with Stein.  The principal with Stein, who asked that he not be identified, actually grew up in and still lives in the Oak Grove area, and has for over a decade dreamed of redeveloping the derelict center.  His firm got involved in discussions with the center's owners early in 2018 and closed on the deal October 9.  DeKalb County tax records indicate the roughly six acre property sold for $9.8 million.

The freestanding building behind Popeyes and along Briarcliff Road was the original location of popular French restaurant Violette, while its more recent life has been as assorted Ethiopian restaurants and lounges, Ledet and Aroma among them.

Desta and the Post Office are likely to be provided space in the redeveloped center, as could other tenants like Bench Warmers, a neighborhood watering hole, and Wings Camera.

Wings Camera, located a few doors down from Desta, has been in business in Atlanta since 1912, making it one of the longest continuously operating businesses in the Atlanta area.  The family-owned business was originally located adjacent to the Loew's Grand downtown before moving to East Paces Ferry in Buckhead, and eventually to Williamsburg Village.   


Desta, though, is likely not to have its popular drive-thru feature included as part of the redevelopment given the nature of the center now and the hurdles they would need to clear to gain approval for a new drive-thru.  The restaurant's upcoming Emory Point location, which could soften the blow if their existing location is forced to close during the planned redevelopment, is slated to open "in December."  
The makeshift drive-thru at Desta 
In late 2015, the Williamsburg Apartments, located at the corner of Clairmont and North Druid Hills Roads, and also developed by LeCraw, were also sold for redevelopment. Then owned by TriBridge Residential, the property is now home to Parkside at Mason Mill, a Pulte Homes community.

Jay Gipson, another local developer who lives in neighboring Brookhaven, has sought to develop a number of parcels across Clairmont from Williamsburg Village. The site, which totals about 3.74 acres, would have replaced a number of derelict and abandoned buildings and empty lots with a RaceTrac, Wendy's and relocated Express Oil Change & Tune-Up Clinic.  The neighborhood agreed the subject property is an eyesore, but neighbors and DeKalb County both balked at the tenants proposed and eventually the county voted to deny his requested variances.  

In a move that further angered residents, Gipson subsequently sought to have the parcels annexed into the City of Brookhaven in hopes of getting a more favorable ruling.  Brookhaven Community Development Department recommended denial of the variance request after which Gipson withdrew his request.  Many neighbors suspect this is not the last they hear from Gipson and his development plans.  Gipson had previously told residents he was "in talks with the LeCraw family" to purchase Williamsburg Village.

Sources close to Stein indicate that they have no intention of seeking a similar Brookhaven annexation and are instead in favor of the proposed City of Vista Grove, a new city within which the center would be located.  


Aside from self-storage developments, Stein has diversified into office projects as well as some commercial developments such as when they partnered with Frank Buonanotte to redevelop Westside Ironworks on Howell Mill Road in West Midtown.  The project today includes a number of successful restaurants including Barcelona Wine Bar, O-Ku Sushi, and Holler & Dash, as well as home furnishings retailer Dixon Rye, among others.  Buonanotte is also a partner on the development of Williamsburg Village.

Earlier this summer it was revealed that Stein, along with Buonanotte, were brought on by original developer Eden Rock Real Estate Partners to develop the $40 million Westside Village project along Marietta Boulevard near Moores Mill Road.

What would you like to see open as part of the planned redevelopment of Williamsburg Village shopping center?  What is your oldest memory of the shopping center?  What current tenants would you like see as part of the redevelopment of the center?

Please share your thoughts below.  

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Napoleons and The Vista Room are not in this area.

Rachael said...

While I am all in favor of revitalizing shopping centers past their prime, I have enjoyed the collection of Ethiopian restaurants and bars that have given an identity to the shopping center. What will be very disappointing is if the redevelopment effort brings in such homogenized offerings that fail to differentiate the shopping center from any other no name shopping center across the United States. Do we really need another Subway or similar fast food establishment you see on every corner. Same goes for yet another CVS, Urgent Care Center, or discount store. I actually frequent those places from time to time so I am not trying to be snooty. Let's try to be creative people. How about a locally owned coffee house or restaurants, something to rival REI- but local, a deli with take away items for dinner, hobby store of some sort, etc. Seems to me the area could support it. I thought maybe we might see that in the developments that sprouted out outside of downtown Decatur. Unfortunately, it seems like the area is becoming more like Johns Creek or Alpharetta than the ITP neighborhood it is.

Anonymous said...

Poor guy - only a matter of time before the locals start complaining about whatever he has in mind.

Anonymous said...

"Napoleons and The Vista Room are not in this area." Yeah the author noted that, "in Vista Grove shopping center on LaVista Road"

Mrs. Collier said...

The diversity has run off a lot of small businesses that are also diverse, through encroachment and bullying. I’d like to see the whole thing redone...

Anonymous said...

I remember in the mid 80s, the building near Popeyes that looks like a former bank (I'm sure it started as a bank), was 'Aegean Pizza', a Greek restaurant. Our family used to eat there sometimes. Moe's may still have been KFC at that point. I think the 'Fatboy Hamburgers' (near the current QT) was probably already leveled by that point. Fatboy was also run by a local Greek family.

Overall, Williamssburg village has been ugly and unimpressive for a long time, so anything should be an improvement.

Unknown said...

We used to race slot cars down near where the Post Office is. Weldons Baber Shop upstairs cut 3 generations of our family before he passed. Time marches on...

Anonymous said...

I took ballet lessons at the dance school was it called Fleetwood's? Also there was a book store called Kendalls which was a nice independent bookstore.

Anonymous said...

Cue the "how about a Trader Joes" comments

Anonymous said...

The article already says that "Trader Joe's has previously stated they have no intention of opening any additional Atlanta area stores so they are likely not an option."

Anonymous said...

While Rachael's suggestions are admirable, it won't happen. The economics of leveling a shopping center and replacing it generally does not permit an abundance local shops. Maybe there'll be one or 2. But unfortunately places like Subway and CVS pay the bills for the developer. A new shopping center opened near me and a Great Clips came in. On my community's message board people were complaining about such a boring place and wishing a "cute boutique" would've opened. That's all good and well except people don't shop at "cute boutiques" anymore. And if they do, they browse and only buy stuff when it's on clearance. Yes, that's a generalization, but more often than not, it's a true generalization.

Anonymous said...

I would like to see a Starbucks with drive-through capability.

Dr Dave Leader said...

In the 70s, I frequented the Oxford Bookstore. And I recently gave my son in law the Grand Prix I bought at the Raleigh Bike shop in 1975. Still a great bike. I agree that there are likely many better uses for this property today than a few shops and a Post Office. I can't wait to see what crops up in the future.

Anonymous said...

Sarcasm. It's sarcasm.

Chuck Simon's Barber Shop said...

I have many fond memories working at Weldon's 1976-1982. Still have many of those same clients, too. Wallace Weldon was a fine man and ran a first class shop.

Deanna Helie said...

The shopping center has become rundown for many years. There are a few good places in the shopping center left but it needs to change to reflect the people working and living around this area. I think having unique shops will make the center stand out and not be another cookie cutter shopping center. The current customer base has changed and so must the shopping center in order to survive and be profitable. Look at the various shops at the center at North Druid Hills and Lavista. These shops are different and various. It draws people into the shopping center because of CVS, food, service shops...


looking forward to the change and I hope it will be a good one!

Anonymous said...

@AnonymousNovember 26, 2018 at 6:44 PM
Nope. As I understand it, the new owner doesn't intend to request any SLUPs and doesn't want any noxious businesses. Plus, one of the principals is from the neighborhood. Sounds like a winner to me.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the Aroma/Ledet/former Violette building is part of the deal, although the new WV owners have been trying to buy it. (And I hope they are successful in making the purchase.)

Anonymous said...

Ice skating rink? Indoor skiing? Whole Foods? But most important, keep Desta and the other restaurants and the USPS.

CloseOTP said...

@Anon@8:17PM - I mean this in the nicest way, but come on? Skating? Skiing? Whole Foods. 0 for 3. Not. Going. To. Happen.

Anonymous said...

Good. NIMBYism is like a religion here.

Bill King said...

The investor's recently completed project at Westside Ironworks in West Midtown is amazing with fantastic restaurants...something along those lines would be very welcomed in this area and I believe would do extremely well... ideally including Desta as one of those restaurants.

Anonymous said...

1. Where in this center was Oxford's original site? I always thought the long gone Peachtree Battle location was the original.
2. I hope Wings gets to stay. Its one of the few places that sell actual film and camera "stuff" around these days.
3. "...worst parking lot around" - so true

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