NP, Smithfield among those facing glut of vacant properties

NP, Smithfield among those facing glut of vacant properties

The old Burger King on Mineral Spring Avenue in North Providence has sat vacant for nearly a year as the number of commercial vacancies in the area continues to creep up. (Breeze photos by Ethan Shorey)

NORTH PROVIDENCE – A former Burger King at 1382 Mineral Spring Ave. is still vacant after closing before the start of the pandemic, despite numerous businesses checking it out as a potential new home.

Up the road is a vacant parcel for lease at 1603 Mineral Spring Ave. and another on the corner of Mineral Spring Avenue and Malcolm Street.

A number of commercial spaces up and down North Providence’s main thoroughfares are now vacant, with new construction set to add to the glut of available properties.

A review conducted by the town in 2019 found only 12 total vacant storefront spaces left in North Providence. That number started creeping up several months later with the start of the pandemic, and has ballooned further since then.

Prior to COVID-19, said Mayor Charles Lombardi, business was booming in North Providence and open spaces were scarce. The impacts of the pandemic, now running for 10 months, have been severe here and elsewhere in Rhode Island, said Lombardi, now the president of the R.I. League of Cities and Towns. Just up Route 44 in Smithfield, he noted, the redeveloped Benny’s property still has no tenants many months after it was completed, and representatives for the developer there, Carpionato, recently expressed regrets about completing the whole project before landing tenants.

He said a number of other communities are experiencing way worse circumstances than North Providence when it comes to businesses closing down.

“This COVID is really having an effect,” he said.

Hopefully, said Lombardi, the pandemic will soon be over and business can get back to normal, but in the meantime, town officials will continue to be friendly to businesses and encourage them to come here.

“We’ll continue to operate the way we have,” he said.

Lombardi said he himself has felt the financial impact of the pandemic, as he was recently forced to close the Smithfield location of his Luxury Cleaners chain at 285 George Washington Highway. It wasn’t an easy decision after 74 years in business, he said, but “it’s the right and smart business decision to stop the bleeding.”

According to Lombardi, that particular location was “more corporate” and relied heavily on the 3,000 or so people who were working at Fidelity Investments, but many of those people are now working from home and no longer have a need for dry cleaning.

“I’m with the rest of the businesses and I know how hurtful it is,” said Lombardi, adding that the business will keep remaining locations open in Cumberland, North Smithfield and North Providence.

Lombardi has become so concerned about the excess commercial space and the potential for more businesses to close that he’s asking the potential buyer of the old safety complex on Mineral Spring Avenue to stick with standalone businesses, such as restaurants, instead of bringing in another strip mall.

After a particularly slow few months, said Lombardi, his town and others are starting to see a small uptick in calls of interest related to commercial space.

The redeveloped Benny’s plaza on Route 44 is still completely empty.