The Toco Hill Shopping Center has been part of Vivi Siegel’s life since she moved to Atlanta in 2001. These days, however, she is “sad and bewildered” by the changes happening there.
For decades, it held tenants like Petite Auberge, Famous Pub, jewelry store Alexander’s of Atlanta, footwear retailer Shoe Center, Radio Shack and even the Georgia Department of Labor. All of those are gone since retail real estate developer Edens acquired the shopping center in December 2015. The latest casualty is Bagel Palace. A Toco Hill fixture for the past 25 years, its last day of service was Sunday.
Like many areas of greater Atlanta, Toco Hill is undergoing redevelopment of its key mixed-use property sites.
Edens operates 136 retail centers across the U.S., including Buckhead Market Place, Sandy Plains Centre and Merchant’s Walk in the Atlanta market. When it acquired the Toco Hill Shopping Center, situated in one of metro Atlanta’s oldest and most moneyed neighborhoods, Edens stated that it “envisions bringing a cohesive feel to the shops and restaurants facing North Druid Hills Road through design and a diverse retail mix.”
The retail business lives and dies on its ability to evolve, and when new owners take over a development, it’s not uncommon for them to spruce up centers or tinker with the lineup of tenants. But that tinkering can put pressure on existing restaurants and merchants to keep up with the squeeze of higher rents and landlord expectations. Often, the result is for landlords to push for higher-end or higher-volume tenants.
In the spring of 2016, Edens began extensive renovations and improvements to give the center a fresh look, including parking, enhanced outdoor spaces, new roofs and signage. It has inked leases with numerous new tenants, including growing area pizza chain the Local Pizzaiolo, Hugh Acheson’s coffeehouse concept Spiller Park and vintage furniture and home decor shop Westside Market. Sports bar Hudson Grille, Bishops Cut & Color and Kale Me Crazy have been announced as tenants, although none has opened yet. On Tuesday, it was announced that Pao Pao Ramen and Pao Pao Rolled ice cream will set up shop in the old Shoe Center space.
“It seems like they are trying to attract more upscale tenants,” Siegel said. “I’m worried about the direction they are heading. The whole character of the shopping center is changing, and I’m not sure it’s going to be a place where I’m going to spend a lot of time.”
Meanwhile, Bagel Palace business partners Joe Weiner and Manny Klein are grappling with the deli’s shuttering, due to a lack of business and an increase in rent that they could not keep up with. Ultimately, they were evicted.
“It got to a point we couldn’t afford it anymore,” Klein said. “We knew that eventually they were going to send us an eviction notice.”
Weiner and Klein are considering whether to open Bagel Palace in a different location, a decision that would take at least five or six months, according to Weiner, but in the meantime, the business partners have gripes about the past few years under Edens’ management.
“The back door was falling apart. We called them and they didn’t do anything about it,” Klein said. “Signs didn’t light up for months.”
“They wanted us out,” Weiner said. “They took our sign down. They took tables away from us. Anything they could do, they did, to make sure we didn’t succeed.”
Edens did not respond to a request for comment.
Weiner stated that, prior to Edens taking over, they were paying $17 per square foot. In 2017, they opted for a month-to-month lease, with the rent jumping to $34 per square foot.
According to commercial real estate data firm CoStar, retail spaces in the North Druid Hills Road corridor average $19.11 per square foot, an 18.1 percent premium over the average asking rent per square foot in Atlanta and a 22.5 percent increase compared to five years ago when these retail spaces averaged $15.60 per square foot.
Other tenants in the shopping plaza are seeing similar rent increases. Francis Indianto bought Chris’ Pizza with his wife, Teresa, in 2008. Now in the third year of a five-year lease, Indianto estimates that three years ago, they paid $4,000 a month for the space. Next month, it will increase to $10,000. However, he is optimistic, saying he believes business to be up 20 percent due to the younger population attracted to the revamped shopping center.
With Spiller Park Coffee open since last fall, Acheson is happy with the decision to take a space in Toco Hill. “There was not much in the way of fine coffee around there,” said Acheson, whose original Spiller Park location is in Ponce City Market. “We’ve done really well,” he said of the Toco Hill spot, citing proximity to Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He called Edens a “forward thinking” company.
As one more longstanding Toco Hill business fades away, loyal patrons are just happy they were able to experience a final hurrah.
Marcus Brodzki has been eating at Bagel Palace since 2004, when he was a student at nearby Emory University. Now a resident of Roswell, he and his wife, Tara, met up with friends at Bagel Palace to celebrate Mother’s Day. “It was like a reunion. We came from four different parts of Atlanta for brunch at Bagel Palace. It was one of our go-to places,” he said.
Staff writers J. Scott Trubey and Bill Torpy contributed to this article.