Bob Bruenig isn’t kidding when he says he invests in his neighborhood.

The Lake Highlands resident is president of Breunig Commercial, a real estate company that purchased several commercial properties in the Lake Highlands area.

His company owns North Creek Place 2, an office building at Abrams and LBJ. His group also purchased Richardson Commerce Center at Sherman and Floyd.

His most recent venture is the Skillman Crossing shopping center at Skillman and LBJ, a neighborhood sore spot that suffered from low occupancy rates and a deteriorating structure for years.

Breunig’s investments in our neighborhood are indicative of a trend. More and more businesses are settling into our neighborhood to ride the boom of a positive economy and take advantage of our neighborhood’s demographics.

  • Last summer, Whole Foods market and Mi Cocina, a Mexican food restaurant, moved into the shopping center at Kingsley and Skillman. Before the move-ins, the center had an occupancy rate of a little more than 20 percent. Today, its occupancy is more than 70 percent. Whole Foods representatives have said that market and demographic studies indicate the neighborhood is an ideal location for a store.
  • Food Lion and several other businesses recently opened in the Abrams and Royal shopping center, slowly revitalizing a center that appeared to be on its last leg.
  • When Tom Thumb moved out of the Northlake Shopping Center at Ferndale and Northwest Highway, it seemed to be the beginning of the end. Even though the store’s spot remains empty, many other businesses have moved in, including Pancho’s Restaurant, Women’s Total Fitness and Tutor Time. The center’s management is aggressively looking for a tenant to fill the old Tom Thumb spot and says it hopes to have one soon.
  • At Skillman and LBJ, numerous shopping centers are constantly pumping with business. Many occupancy rates are more than 90 percent.

Much of the success at the intersection is contributed to the Plaza Bank Shopping Center. During the late ’80s, while other centers were losing businesses, the Plaza kept up an aggressive marketing campaign, educating businesses about Lake Highlands.

The campaign paid off, and the center now houses some of our neighborhood’s most successful ventures – ST Cafe and Kokopelli Restaurant.

But the retail boom isn’t unique to our neighborhood. Daniel Howard, chair of SMU’s Marketing Department, says retail businesses are expanding nationwide.

And Dallas is experiencing a boom bigger than the norm, with some parts of the City growing three times faster than the national growth rate.

Howard says many factors contribute to the growth – from demographics to population growth to the weather.

But don’t be fooled, Howard says. The economy, and with it the real estate and business industries, move in cycles.

“The ones who survive are the ones who provide a needed service,” Howard says. “When the demand declines, the weak fold first.”

Since December 1992, the total occupancy rate of all retail spaces in our neighborhood has increased three percent, from 81 to 84 percent, says Sean Hockens, with MP/F Research, a real estate tracking firm.

“There has been strong absorption in the shopping centers,” Hockens says. “The whole Dallas area is going up at a pretty steady clip.”

In 1986, when the bottom fell out of the economy, few could afford to do business leaving many centers empty. To attract tenants, many owners lowered their rents, and the economy picked up, new businesses took advantage of the great deals.

But low rents and prices won’t be around much longer, Breunig says.

In addition to strong demographics, the borders of Lake Highlands appeal to large, national retailers. Greenville Avenue and Central Expressway allow businesses to attract residents east and west of the highway, says Robert Dozier, vice president of retail for Lincoln Properties, which owns and runs Old Town Shopping Center on Greenville.

And Garland Road, Northwest Highway and LBJ allow businesses to draw from Lake Highlands, Casa Linda, East Dallas and Garland.

White Rock Marketplace, which is anchored by Home Depot at Garland Road and LBJ, attracts shoppers from neighborhoods west and east of LBJ.

But it hasn’t just been large operations moving in – business of all sizes, from grocery stores to art galleries to sports supplies warehouses to dry cleaners, have moved into our neighborhood, Hockens says.

And the next few years should bring more growth and business to Lake Highlands, he predicts.

And making sure Lake Highlands gets its share of this boom will be real estate investors such as Breunig, who says he’s not finished buying up property east of Central.

“This is where I live,” Breunig says. “We know this area and the submarket. We want to see it every day.”