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Belmont

Macy’s exit will leave gap in center

Lynne Anderson was on the steps of Macy’s in Belmont when she heard the news. The Leonard Street store, still decked out for Christmas and bustling with shoppers, will be closing for good this spring.

“I’m stunned and depressed,” the Arlington resident said after being told of the retailer’s announcement Thursday. “You’ve ruined my day.”

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It’s a sight rarely seen in these days of online retail and shopping malls: a chain department store right in the center of a small town. But the 75,000-square-foot space, which employs 101 people,  is one of six Macy’s slated to shut down across the country.

The building’s owner is already looking for a new tenant, but that was little comfort to the faithful last week.

“Dear, dear, dear. Oh wow, that’s a huge blow,” said Paul Solomon, a former Belmont selectman. “I guess I’m old-fashioned enough to feel that the loss of face-to-face shopping is not something I’d like to see.”

“We don’t know yet what kind of impact it will have on Belmont Center,” said Iris Chin Ponte, media specialist for the Belmont Center Business Association. “Having a flagship store like that anchoring the center has been really important. The service is intimate, they know you, they start to know your style. They go so far as to courtesy call when your size comes in.”

A spokeswoman for Locatelli Properties, which owns the building, said the company is already in talks with several stores, searching for a single tenant to take the location.

“We’re looking for something that continues to play the same type of role that Macy’s did, which is serve as an anchor for the downtown business community and as a resource for the residents of the area,” said Diana Pisciotta. “Our hope is, though, that we can find the right kind of tenant that doesn’t keep that property vacant for too long.”

She declined to name the companies that have been talking with Locatelli, but said her firm would be open to a national chain or a big local business.

The Leonard Street space has been a Macy’s only since 2006; Pisciotta said it was built in 1941 as a Filene’s store, and is Belmont Center’s largest retail site.

“A lot of people feel like it’s the end of an era,” said Selectman Andy Rojas. “A lot of people grew up with Filene’s and Macy’s being there.”

As a child in Belmont, Ponte said, she was taken by her mother to Filene’s for her big occasions: birthday parties, back to school, holiday pictures. She remembers being 4 years old and terrified of visiting Santa — so her mother took her to Filene’s for a special grown-up dress to wear while facing her fears.

“It had red straps, a reindeer on the front, and one of those skirts that twirled,” said Ponte, now 34. “I swear it was that dress that made me brave enough to sit on Santa’s lap.”

Ponte said she fears she won’t be able to continue the tradition of shopping at 75 Leonard St. with her own children.

While the Macy’s may not have been pulling in the same sales it once did, it has remained a landmark, said Rojas. “Just by virtue of size, it had a certain dominance,” he said.

The center of town has been on an economic upswing recently, welcoming a spate of new businesses, including Quebrada Baking Co. last year and a Comella’s restaurant in 2011, Rojas said.

“Belmont Center has come a long way in the last five to 10 years,” he said. “There used to be empty storefronts, [now] there’s none.”

The shortage of parking in the heart of Belmont’s shopping district is a chronic issue, and could pose a challenge in the search for a new tenant.

“I don’t think it’s by any stretch of the imagination a barrier,” said Pisciotta. “It is something we need to think about if we want to maintain a vibrant Belmont Center.”

The town has been working on a parking management plan for several years, and selectmen voted last spring to approve a general parking plan. The town is still working on hammering out the specifics, said Rojas, and nothing has been implemented.  

“It is moving forward. This gives us a good opportunity to ramp it up a little bit,” Rojas said. “I think that this actually gives the property owner and any potential tenant a little bit of input into what the town does with parking.”

The town is also planning a redesign of the center as a whole, by narrowing Leonard Street and making the area more pedestrian friendly, said Mark Paolillo, the Board of Selectmen’s chairman. The project is on course to begin in the next six months to a year, he said.

The news about Macy’s, he said, will likely speed up conversation about the redesign as well as parking.

In a statement, Macy’s Inc. called the closing of the Belmont store and the five others “normal course adjustments to its portfolio.”

Final clearance sales will start Monday at the Belmont Macy’s, according to the announcement, and will run for between seven and 11 weeks.

There are still Macy’s locations in Boston, Braintree, Burlington, Cambridge, Natick, Peabody, and Saugus. The company closed its Chestnut Hill store in 2011. 

In Belmont Center, some are already speculating on what could move in next, but for others, it’s clear what Leonard Street needs.

“It needs Macy’s,” Ponte said.

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com.
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