In the Know: Nine more local store chain closings. And are one of these 3 emerging Southwest Florida retail hotspots near you?

Phil Fernandez
Naples Daily News

There are other fragments to reader Ralph Horn's inquiry to address in a future column, but he wanted to know about Immokalee Road in Collier County:

What is going on past Collier Boulevard going East? 

Well, as Jackie Gleason might have said, staring at himself in a mirror, "Ralphie boy, You're the greatest" for submitting your query.

"And awaaaay we go" because this baby's part of a much bigger picture of what's happening in Southwest Florida and the powerful link between residential real estate and retail growth.

We're going to connect the dots through a journey. A dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. We're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. We've just crossed over into the . . . In the Know Zone. Thank you, Rod Serling. Now put out your cigarette please. This column's flammable.

While a few of us hid in our underground bunker during crises that gripped our nation in recent months, others were buying, buying, buying in Southwest Florida.

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"One of the amazing things that started to happen as you and I were all sitting around with a little bit of time in between all our 14 Zoom calls, apparently we were shopping," said Dan O’Berski, founding partner at Estero-based Trinity Commercial Group. "This was a big deal."

We were also watching 41 hours of TV a week, nearly double the norm, and exercising a lot less, according to Friday's new Ezvid Wiki study, while we were making purchases that went well beyond just apparel and general merchandise.

Many, trying to escape the uncomfortable congested spaces of urban areas in the Northeast, South Florida and elsewhere, were acquiring Southwest Florida dwellings, as I first reported from interviews last month.

"U-Haul stats say Florida is a substantial benefactor," O'Berski said. "When I first started representing Winn-Dixie in the market, they said go find locations at the mouth of the residential communities. My world has always been around where are rooftops going. We've gotten some really incredibly encouraging news."

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In new numbers out Friday, the Naples Area Board of Realtors reported 881 closed transactions for June as compared to last year's 923. But a crazy 61 percent leap in newly cut deals, with 911 in June 2019, contrasted to last month's 1,469.

O'Berski said the Southwest Florida MLS matrix shows 2,860 home sales for June, which "are not dramatically different" from last year's 2,955 and the four-year average of 2,980.

"When you add in new home sales, we have met or beaten 2019 and 2018 in almost all categories for total sales, with new home sales being phenomenal the last couple of months," said O'Berski, who made a virtual presentation at the recent Midyear Market Update for the Florida CCIM Chapter Southwest District.

Since some other parts of the nation are not experiencing what's happening here with housing, the eyes of the retail world are now on Southwest Florida.

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"One of my clients is Fresh Market," O'Berski said, "and these things play 100 percent into what and how retailers make their decisions."

In addition to the Page Field and Alico Road areas in Fort Myers and Cape Coral's bustling Del Prado Boulevard and Pine Island Road mashup, O'Berski named three spots in Collier and Lee counties to watch for retail growth.

Let's go into detail on this trio, and we'll start off with Ralphie's first since he got us on this whole expedition:

Collier Boulevard and Immokalee Road

Featured in recent columns, Immokalee and Collier, aka County Road 951, is a major Naples intersection that's rapidly transforming.

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Rendering of Founders Square being developed by Barron Collier Companies and Metro Development Group.

It's highlighted by the 55-acre Founders Square, which has been in the works this year by Barron Collier Cos. and Metro Commercial Development Group and anchored by The Pointe, a collection of eventual restaurants, grocers and other tenants.

"This is a site and development deal that we're doing with Barron Collier and Metro," O'Berski said of the project, earmarked for completion next summer. "We sold off the apartments for a 400-unit Class A development."

The fancy digs, known as The Haldeman, are planned around an extensive lake system and paths geared toward making the area pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly, which as you know we're not very good at around here for some strange reason despite our great year-round weather.

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Dan O’Berski, founding partner at Estero-based Trinity Commercial Group

In addition, Catalyst Healthcare Real Estate said earlier this month that it and MedProperties Realty Advisors had just closed the deal to develop the 35,000-square-foot Physicians Regional Healthcare medical office edifice on the Collier Boulevard side of the Founders land.

"Physicians Regional is going vertical along 951," O'Berski said. "We're really excited about the overall project."

Yet more evidence that this crossroads, beside the temperatures, is hot, hot, hot: MedProperties Managing Principal Darryl Freling said their structure is already 100 percent pre-leased for a 15-year initial term.

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"More and more healthcare systems are offering outpatient care in convenient, high-visibility locations that also feature housing, shopping, restaurants, entertainment venues and other special services," Freling said. "Residents like having all of these amenities together where they live, work and play.”

Hard to believe 270,000 square feet of commercial space at the former, quieter Pelican Nursery site. If you don't recognize it now, wait a few more years. Long-range Collier County transportation plans suggest an overpass by 2035.

And earlier this year, if you had asked some drivers in the afternoon traffic from nearby Gulf Coast High, Oakridge Middle and other volume-producers, they may have told you it's already needed.

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Across from Oakridge on Collier Boulevard is where a lot of new construction driving this shopping market is going on including D.R. Horton's 220-townhome Meadowood. The digging and hammering began last month, with a fall debut and prices starting in the upper $200,000 range.

Other nearby burgeoning settlements include Toll Brothers' 138-unit Abaco Pointe that opened this year and Mattamy Homes' Compass Landing, which offers single-family living from the upper $300,000s.

Ralphie had also asked about the work a mile east of there on Immokalee, across from The Quarry community around the Woodcrest Drive area. That's where Lennar has been expanding what it has, and other developers, such as Neal Communities and its 104-abode Richmond Park, are getting in on the new building O'Berski referenced.

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Bonita Beach Road

O'Berski confirmed what we had written last month about this corridor.

"This is a very transitional area from my perspective on the retail. We used to call Bonita our fool's gold. Demographically spectacular, but incredibly bad for retailers, with the very few exceptions to that," he said. "What you have seen with the development along Bonita Beach Road has substantially increased density."

A big player in all this is the new Logan Boulevard extension between Bonita Beach and Immokalee roads.

"With the increased access to Logan, other than having to drive 12 mph behind whoever is driving in front of you, the access to Naples is a great addition," O'Berski said. "The continued development there in Bonita will be impressive."

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Veterans Parkway and Santa Barbara Boulevard

Doesn't seem like that long ago that 1979's Cape Coral High School pretty much sat by itself not far from this intersection.

In fact, the junction didn't exist. Veterans to the east debuted in 1997 with bits and pieces later. But the final segment of Veterans to Burnt Store Road opened Oct. 16, 2002 so in some respects, this corner's still just a kid in human years.

Yes, short of 18 and not quite an adult, but my, have you grown.

Sure, you've had some bumps and bruises along the way. The cancelling of that stinking Lucky's Market Kroger had planned came like a skinned knee, but you'll heal and get all grown-up on us.

"Santa Barbara and Veterans in Cape Coral – that's about a 50 percent finished Lucky's box. That is still being determined how Kroger's guarantee is going to have an impact on that location," O'Berski said. "Several grocers are intrigued with that site, and it's anticipated that'll be replaced by a grocer coming" soon.

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Final stretch of Veterans Parkway in Cape Coral opens Oct. 16, 2002.

One thing's for sure, the old Cape Coral Fire Department Station Four isn't coming back to that valuable spot although the corner does already feature a Firehouse Subs.

Last month, Wawa joined competitor 7-Eleven and others on the fun, hoping to draw from the 45,000 passing cars to the gas station's fifth Lee County venue.

And then west of the Lowe's, Target and Publix, there’s the 15 acres the owners have been pushing for a Costco. A Best Buy had been slated at one point but that fell through. A mini-version of a Founders Square featuring mixed use of merchants and apartments, which is all the rage, is another possibility there.

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Oh, no! Nine more closings, darn it.

You've probably never heard of Ascena Retail Group, which has declared bankruptcy.

But you have might know some of its stores including Ann Taylor, Lane Bryant, Catherines and Justice.

And unfortunately, Southwest Florida wasn't spared in closings that showed up in public records at the end of the past week. Coastland Center again and Coconut Point took the biggest hits. Going out of business promotions could last up to two months, depending on location if not already closed.

In addition, unrelated bankruptcy court records showed Friday that Neiman Marcus is shuttering its Last Call outlet in Estero.

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It sounds like the list will eventually grow, but what we're losing so far includes:

► Neiman Marcus Last Call, Miromar Outlets, 10801 Corkscrew Road, Estero

► Lane Bryant, Coastland Center, 1750 Tamiami Trail N., Naples

► Lane Bryant, Coconut Point, 8024 Mediterranean Drive, Estero

► Ann Taylor Factory Store, Naples Coastal Shops, 6060 Collier Blvd.

► Catherines, 4455 Cleveland Ave., at Colonial Boulevard, Fort Myers

► Justice, Coastland Center, 1788 Tamiami Trail N., Naples

► Justice, Miromar Outlets, 10801 Corkscrew Road, Estero

► Justice, Coconut Point, 23141 Fashion Drive, Estero

►Justice, Edison Mall, 4125 Cleveland Ave., Fort Myers

Based at the Naples Daily News, Columnist Phil Fernandez ( writes In the Know as part of the USA TODAY NETWORK. Support Democracy and subscribe to a newspaper.

In the Know's new columnist, Phil Fernandez. The photo was shot in Naples Daily News studio Thursday, September, 12, 2019.