Invasion of the Discount Retailers!

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They’re an emerging new breed, and they’re coming to a strip mall near you. Filling the empty big-box shells left behind by Blockbuster, Circuit City, and other stores hammered by the one-two punch of the recession and the sharp rise of online shopping, these chains come seeking bargain shoppers (and cheap rent), and they’re numbers are multiplying around the country. They’re … the discount retailers.

In the same way that discount supermarket chains Aldi and Save-A-Lot are rising superstars redefining the grocery shopping experience, a group of discount, or “value,” chains is giving a price check, so to speak, to the world of retail.

The Chicago Tribune story reports on the trend in the Chicago area, naturally enough, where store rents might have cost $20 to $30 per square foot pre-recession, but now go for $15 or perhaps even $7 a square foot:

Among the arrivals: Five Below, Savers, H.H. Gregg, Charming Charlie, and Ross Dress for Less. The retailers are swooping in on empty storefronts in malls and strip centers left behind by rivals either crippled or wiped out by the recession — spots once occupied by Borders, Blockbuster, Circuit City and Linens ‘N Things, to name a few.

In a news release, Five Below announced the opening of 10 Chicago-area stores last Friday, and 10 more stores are set to open in greater Chicago this summer, bringing the area total to 75. Five Below, to the uninitiated, is sorta like a dollar store—only it’s not, because much of the merchandise costs more than a buck, but, as the name indicates, everything is price at $5 or below.

The growth of discount retailers is hardly limited to Chicago, though. Five Below’s events page shows that 14 new locations opened recently, and 25 more are coming this summer.

Savers, a thrift store chain that’s extremely popular in my household (it sells quality secondhand merchandise and donates part of the proceeds to local non-profits, and my wife can’t get enough of the place), celebrated opening of its 250th location last fall. At least 19 more Savers are slated to open in 2011.

At least now if you feel the need to shop at the hot new store in your neighborhood, it won’t cost you a fortune.