Is the Church Street Marketplace in trouble?

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Is the Church Street Marketplace in trouble? Despite the recent closing of some stores, officials say the central place for Burlington shopping and dining remains vibrant.

"It's always sad to see those national brands leave, but it does pave the way for exciting opportunities for many local businesses," said Jenny Morse with the Church Street Marketplace.

On Friday the Outdoor Gear Exchange announced they are taking over the space Panera Bread currently occupies. An expansion to the store allows more room for their current products and allows them to enhance more aspects of the store. "We're excited about the opportunity," said the Outdoor Gear Exchange's Mark Sherman.

Panera's departure continues a trend of nationally owned companies leaving downtown Burlington. From Old Navy back in 2011, to Bruggers Bagels, and Macy's just a few weeks ago. "I think it speaks a lot to the strength of local retail in downtown Burlington," Sherman said.

Out of the over 100 stores in the Church Street Marketplace, 75-percent of stores are locally owned, and only 25-percent are nationally owned. The most recent numbers show only a two-percent vacancy in stores.

"We're lucky that this is a great place to do business and that businesses want to locate in the downtown. We have a couple of new stores getting ready to open, so we feel like we're in a good place right now," Morse said.

One store closes, another jumps on the opportunity. Free People, a new women's clothing store opening soon, didn't have second thoughts about opening their business after seeing others close their doors on Church Street. "It's a place we've always wanted to have a space. Our brand resonates with Burlington, and sort of the very creative community thats here," said the store's Patrick Stinger.

New beginnings for nationally owned Free People, and the end of an era for locally-owned Sweet Lady Jane. "It wasn't an easy decision to make but it's time," said the store's owner, Rachel Cloutier.

After 25 years, Cloutier admits rent is high for her boutique, but says that didn't play a factor her decision to close at the end of March. "It's just time for me to make a change after 25 years. "It's a good way to segue into the next part of my life," she said.

Now everyone will have to wait and see what will take its place on Church Street.