A New Dawn in the West End of Fairview
Developer invests millions in Faircourt Shopping Center
By David Zaslawsky
Photography by Robert Fouts
A Montgomery developer said he heard that the McDonald’s on Fairview Avenue near Interstate 65 is the No. 2 site for sales in the region.
He also heard that the Advance Auto Parts and AutoZone sites on Fairview Avenue are the companies’ No. 1 outlet for sales in the market.
“It’s a densely populated, underserved market,” Lee Willcoxon, who operates Willcoxon Properties, said about West Montgomery. “When I bought in, Fairview was poised to grow. I felt like it was going to make a comeback.”
He bought the Faircourt Shopping Center on West Fairview Avenue in 1999 and bought the Sears parking lot in 2000. The latter was a $2 million investment for what became the site of Gas Depot, which along with 16 gas pumps had a restaurant, convenience store and car wash. The Gas Depot was rebranded Sunoco last year. “At the time, Fairview was lacking a big convenience store/gas station,” he said. “I was trying to fill a need in the market …”
Willcoxon said he had looked at other properties, but the West Fairview Avenue locations “had the most potential for added value. I felt there was a lot I could do to improve that shopping center and I felt there was a lot of upside potential.”
At the time of his purchase, Food Fair was the anchor of Faircourt Shopping Center, which opened in 1971, but had not had a major remodeling since. There was a variety store, rental store, thrift store, beauty salon and beeper store. The only remaining tenant is the beauty salon, but with a different owner. He has invested about $1.8 million in the shopping center.
Unfortunately, when Food Fair’s owner went bankrupt, that left a huge vacancy at the shopping center back in 2005. “I worked hard to bring another grocery store to the center,” Willcoxon said. That grocery store is the city’s only Piggly Wiggly, which has 27 employees. “I wanted to offer the neighborhood residents another shopping option and it was a good decision.”
The grocery store also attracts people for nostalgic reasons. “People that are traveling through Montgomery will stop there to buy T-shirts and hats and things like that,” he said.
Willcoxon is now in the midst of expanding the shopping center by 13,000 square feet as Citi Trends will move from a 10,500-square-foot site at the center. He said that should be completed by the summer. Willcoxon is looking for a tenant to lease the space occupied by Citi Trends, which has been at the shopping center since 2001.
The shopping center has in addition to Citi Trends and Piggly Wiggly, Shoe Time, Beauty & Beyond, Sugar Shack, 21st Century Salon, Wing Master, Always Money, Cell King, Computers & Beyond, Furniture & Beyond and a Cricket cell phone store.
He still has some undeveloped property at the shopping center and could add another 10,000 square feet for a handful of smaller shops or add 14,000 square feet for a big-box retailer.
“This redevelopment and expansion project represents a rebirth and a renewal of West Fairview Avenue,” Willcoxon said. “There is a sense of excitement and energy among the residents. This is a major investment for Fairview Avenue that adds value to the neighborhood and will enhance the quality of life. It has created jobs and more are on the way.”