But more and more retailers are opening their first locations in Utah, narrowing to a small list the number of popular retailers that aren't here yet. Although there are no consistent population or demographic thresholds that retailers consider when deciding to come into a market, Utah's comparatively vibrant economy, strong job growth and rising population are key factors in the state's attraction.
Popular discount-oriented apparel retailer Steve & Barry's is the latest to announce it is moving into Utah, with a 42,000-square-foot store at 5600 S. Van Winkle Expressway in Murray set to open in August. The company, which has 199 stores in 33 states, is popular with bargain hunters because each piece of merchandise in its stores sells for less than $20.
Like a number of other retailers, Steve & Barry's said it has been hounded by Utahns for years to open a store. "Utah is a state [where] we've been flooded with e-mails," spokeswoman Jenna Harris said.
Steve & Barry's will not be making its Utah entrance alone.
Appealing to young adults, Urban Outfitters is moving into The Gateway shopping center in downtown Salt Lake City. The company, which sells clothes, shoes and accessories, is moving into space vacated by music and movie retailer Virgin Megastore, which is ceasing operations in Utah.
Giving furniture retailer RC Willey some more competition, Ashley Furniture, which bills itself as the world's largest privately held furniture business, is entering the market with two stores, near downtown Salt Lake City and in Layton. Both are set to open Labor Day, Sept. 3.
Another midsized retailer entering the Utah market is Sports Chalet, which operates 40 sporting goods and apparel stores in California, Nevada and Arizona. It will open its first Utah store in West Jordan in November.
Utah has even landed its largest store ever with last month's opening of massive Swedish furniture retailer IKEA in Draper. The 310,000-square-foot store tops even the mammoth 173,000-square-foot Cabela's hunting and fishing superstore that has become a popular regional destination since opening in Lehi in August 2005.
IKEA entered the market after the Salt Lake Valley reached a benchmark population of nearly 2 million.
"Retailers really see Utah as a vibrant market," said Steve Tate, of Salt Lake City brokerage NAI Utah Commercial. "They are seeing a lot of other companies do well here."
In fact, commercial real estate brokerage Sperry Van Ness recently named the Salt Lake City area as one of the Top 10 retail markets to watch in 2007. Other metropolitan areas on its hot list are Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tucson.
The company pointed to Salt Lake City's strong population growth as one factor that has generated interest among retailers, which is pushing commercial vacancies down and rents ever higher.
So who's next? Speculation is that a number of retailers who have passed on Utah in the past -- Cheesecake Factory, Crate & Barrel and In-N-Out Burger, just to name just three -- are considering locations in the state. In-N-Out spokeswoman Stephanie Hagerman said a spot has been picked in the St. George area and that an opening date in early 2008 is possible though not definite. No locations are planned for the Salt Lake area at this point, she said.
Interest is high in all three retailers. Also eagerly anticipated is well-known organic and natural foods grocer Whole Foods, which after years of review finally committed in 2006 to come to Utah. The company plans to soon start construction on a 53,250-square-foot store in Trolley Square near downtown Salt Lake City with a projected opening set to open in 2009.
The addition of Whole Foods is part of a larger renovation of the venerable mall, one of several big-scale face-lifts of malls that are under way or will be under way soon in the Salt Lake Valley.
The LDS church, which is tearing down the Crossroads and ZCMI malls on Main Street in downtown Salt Lake City, plans an estimated $1 billion redevelopment to create City Creek Center, which will open in 2011. It will feature new Macy's and Nordstrom stores, along with space for newcomer Dillard's (which is in the market at other malls) and other retail. Condo towers will surround the mostly open-air project.
To date, the church and its partner, mall developer Taubman Centers, have been closed-mouth about whether any retailers new to Utah will be among City Creek's tenants.
But it appears likely that Holladay's aging Cottonwood Mall will contain a few new names when its Chicago-based owner, General Growth Properties Inc., demolishes most of the existing facility and replaces it with an open-air mall mixing retail, offices and residential. The new mall is expected to be in place by 2010.
"The Cottonwood redevelopment project does anticipate having some tenants that are new to Utah," said Kris Longson, General Growth Properties' vice president of development. He declined to identify any specific prospects "until leases are signed."
Several retailers that have entered the market with one store over the years are adding more.
Crafts chain Hobby Lobby has opened a second location, at 11681 S. Parkway Plaza in South Jordan. The company's first store in Utah opened in Layton late last year. Nationwide, the company has 384 stores in 30 states.
Against this backdrop, most of retailing's big-box stores continue their expansion as strong and constant population growth, along with consistent appreciation in housing values has attracted the attention of the retail community nationally.