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Lifestyle shopping centers ramping up for the Spring

The epic winter of 2014 was a tough time to be in the outdoor shopping business.

The arctic temperatures and massive snowdrifts were not exactly conducive to leisurely strolls and window shopping at Dedham’s Legacy Place or the Street Chestnut Hill in Newton.

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But with the return of warmer weather, the Route 128 corridor’s growing collection of upscale lifestyle centers are revving up for a busy spring.

Only a few weeks ago, Issie Shait, senior vice president of New England Development, was talking about the later-than-usual arrival of street furniture at the firm’s Chestnut Hill Square retail complex, which has taken over the location of the former Omni Foods Plaza along Route 9 in Newton.

“The weather was so lousy we didn’t want to waste our time putting it out there,” he said. “The winter was horrific.”

Now, however, outdoor shopping venues along 128 are ramping up their marketing in hopes of packing their faux streets with shoppers again.

Developers are promoting their lineup of major store and restaurant openings and other events planned for the next few months, and, in some cases, even getting a bit zany in their quest for attention.

MarketStreet Lynnfield wins the award for the most creative spring publicity stunt, having “adopted” three cows from the fiberglass herd that used to stand in front of the now-shuttered Hilltop Steak House in Saugus.

“With the cows, we felt it was a great way to bring a piece of nostalgia over from the North Shore,” said Laurel Sibert, vice president of corporate marketing for Chestnut Hill-based WS Development, part of the team that last fall opened the Lynnfield lifestyle center. “The Hilltop cows are iconic to New England.”

By contrast, developers of Chestnut Hill Square say that they don’t require the Hilltop cows to draw a crowd.

“I don’t think we need to do things quite at that level,” Shait said.

Instead, New England Development drew a big crowd to its Route 9 property last Sunday with the opening of the region’s second Wegmans supermarket, a popular New York-based chain that is eager to expand in Massachusetts.

There were 1,800 people in line to check out the store by 7 a.m., with a total of 16,500 passing through the supermarket’s doors by day’s end, said Joe Natale, director of media relations for Wegmans. It took 20 minutes just to get everyone inside.

It was not quite the crowd of 27,000 that showed up for the opening of the state’s first Wegmans back in 2011 in Northborough, but then again, the Chestnut Hill store is 80,000 square feet compared with 138,000 for the pioneering site.

Meanwhile, elaborate traffic control plans and extra police and firefighter details in place for the store’s grand opening Sunday paid off with a minimum of traffic hassles, said Shait,

State highway monitors helped shoppers navigate the traffic crunch, he said.

“It was fantastic — they blew away their projections and there wasn’t any backup on Route 9,” Shait said.

“If there was a problem, all my picky friends would have been sure to tell me,” added Shait, noting he lives in Newton.

Also on Route 9 in Newton, the Street recently offered its own restaurant promotion, Eat at the Street Week.

Aquitaine, Bernard’s, Davio’s Cucina, Del Frisco’s Grille, Showcase SuperLux, and the Cottage all offered two-course lunch menus for $18 and three-course dinners for $30 during the week of April 6-10, according to WS Development.

Farther north on 128, Burlington’s new 3rd Avenue is looking to draw a crowd of its own this spring with a flurry of restaurant openings.

After a devastating fire just before its planned opening last month, King’s Bowling will now have to be rebuilt and won’t open for at least another year, said Robert Buckley, senior partner with Riemer and Braunstrein, who led efforts to obtain the local permitting for the project’s developer, the Nordblom Co.

Despite the setback, the rest of the ambitious development is moving forward as planned, he said.

Bancroft Grill is preparing to open this month, to be followed by another Wegmans in the fall, Buckley said. Also on tap to open over the next several months are Redstone American Grill and Tony C’s.

“Over the next three months, a number of restaurants are opening up,” Buckley said. “It is really about to become quite active.”

Shoppers and diners can stroll along a boulevard that is designed to be a “restaurant row,” he said.

The idea is to provide a dense cluster of dining, shopping, and entertainment options that typically would be found only in a city.

“The name of the game right now in retailing is the total experience,” Buckley said. “It’s not just touching and feeling the merchandise.”

Over in Dedham, Legacy Place has held a writing competition for high-school students interested in winning $500 scholarships by writing a 400-word profile of one of the businesses at the shopping venue, WS Development reports.

And back at MarketStreet in Lynnfield, just off 128 at Exit 43, the now-renamed MarketStreet Cows have “hosted” an Easter egg hunt, and will don lipstick in honor of Mother’s Day, officials said.

The cows also have their own Twitter handle — @StyleMoos.

Next up? A naming contest for the bovines, WS Development’s Sibert said.

“The cows have found a new hilltop,” she said. “We have an opportunity to hold on to a piece of history and have some fun with it.”

Scott Van Voorhis can be reached at sbvanvoorhis@ hotmail.com
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