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Stores discover south Strand

Vacationer Tinnie Scales spent a recent Wednesday evening stocking up on discounted purses and browsing a wider selection of clothing sizes and styles than she can find back home in Aiken.

Scales was one of the first shoppers at Kohl's new Grand Strand store, taking a sneak peek before the grand opening Oct. 5. Scales said she thought the chain - whose revenue was up to $13.4 billion last year from $6.2 billion in 2000 - was a complementary addition to the complex that already housed Hamrick's and Lowe's.

But Scales wasn't thinking about the bigger picture as she browsed the accessories aisles: National clothing retailers are now taking notice of the population and economic growth on the south end of the beach.

"The retail market is finally starting to catch up to the population growth on the south end," said Nicole Aiello, spokeswoman for the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

The location of Kohl's at U.S. 17 Bypass and S.C. 544 is just the latest example of major retail expanding in the south end of the Grand Strand near the Horry-Georgetown county line, an area previously known for housing, small boutiques and golf courses.

With the pending redevelopment of Inlet Square Mall early next year, the new retail ventures signal a shift that could spread shoppers across the Strand, bringing up questions as to the effect on longtime businesses, traffic conditions and out-of-the-way stores.

"I think Georgetown has just gotten a lot of development lately that is drawing attention from commercial developers," said Charleston Southern University economist Al Parish. "They're starting to see their share of retirees, and I think they're seeing a lot of people moving into that area."

The south end is the next logical place for development on the Grand Strand, said Thomas Secrest, associate professor of accounting, finance and economics at Coastal Carolina University.

"There are natural, geographic and man-made boundaries that do not allow large-scale retail development to the north in Horry County; therefore, the southern movement should be expected," Secrest said.

The Myrtle Beach area has gained national attention for its expansive retail market, which is growing at about 1½ times the national rate, Parish said.

The National Research Bureau ranked the Myrtle Beach area as the most developed retail market in the country in 2005, at 43.22 square feet of shopping center space per resident. The national average is 20.3 square feet per capita, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Kohl's District Manager Phillip Daniels said the chain took into account the population and economic growth when deciding where to locate the newest of its 817 stores - 40 of which opened on the same day as the Grand Strand location.

"With the other big-name retailers around us, that will help feed more shoppers into this area," Daniels said.

Retail and food sales in Horry County are the highest of any county in the state in the summer months, according to data from the S.C. Department of Revenue.

"A big-name retailer that comes into the area can actually bring more shoppers and more money to the area around it than before," Aiello said. "But it remains to be seen at this point how Kohl's will impact that area."

There's enough demand from residents on the south end of the Strand to support new stores such as Kohl's without hurting existing shopping centers, many officials said.

"People tend to shop locally," said Parish, the economist.

Marketing Director Sherri Crawford said they're not concerned at Tanger Outlet Center, which has a location on U.S. 501 and another between Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach.

"I think there's enough in this market to support all ends of the beach," she said. "I think it will just help us overall to have more development on the south end."

Scales made her way to Kohl's after stopping at her usual shopping destination: Hamrick's. She thinks the addition of Kohl's to the Grand Strand could increase her shopping, which usually includes a stop at the Tanger Outlets, instead of decreasing the amount she would typically spend at each store.

"When you come to resort areas like this, there's usually a bigger selection of stores," Scales said. "I enjoy seeing what's available when I'm out of town."

Aiello said Scales' habits are indicative of the way many consumers will react to additional retail.

"It's just going to mean they will probably shop more," Aiello said.