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Staff photo by Mike Pare / E.C. Barton plans to put a new home improvement store at a shopping center on Highway 153 in Hixson.

A new-to-the-Chattanooga market home improvement retailer is headed to Hixson as E.C. Barton & Co. moves into the former Kmart space.

E.C. Barton, which is based in Jonesboro, Arkansas, and has stores in 17 states from Texas to New York, is expected to open its newest unit around April. Bassam Issa, who earlier bought and redeveloped the building in a $14 million project, said the home improvement retailer will join Gabe's and Ollie's Bargain Outlet in the Highway 153 shopping center that's branded Issa Crossing.

"For all practical purposes, the entire building is finished," he said.

Issa said there's one 13,000 square foot space in the back of the building that's for lease to a tenant that doesn't care about store frontage.

E.C. Barton, founded in 1885, offers both consumers and professionals goods as they build, remodel or restore kitchens, baths, flooring, doors and windows, according to the company website.

The company, which did not return a request for comment Friday, said it offers thousands of name brand products at low prices. It also provides design services as people plan their dream kitchen or bath, the retailer said.

Issa said E.C. Barton will occupy 26,000 square feet next to Ollie's.

"It will be complementary to Lowe's and Home Depot," he said, noting both of the home improvement giants are located nearby.

The Chattanooga developer is making a sizable bet in the strength of the Hixson market. In addition to Issa Crossing, which also holds a Texas Roadhouse, Issa earlier this year purchased the former Firestone auto center next to Northgate Mall.

That center, which is undergoing demolition, is to hold a new Panera restaurant, which will relocate from the opposite side of the mall parking lot, as well as other eateries, Issa said.

Also, in October, Issa jointed ventured with businessman John Woods, the chief executive officer at asset manager Southport Capital in the city, and mall owner CBL Properties, to buy the long vacant J.C. Penney store at Northgate.

The 173,000-square-foot J.C. Penney space, which has been vacant since it closed in 2014, has the second-largest footprint at the mall behind Sears, which is also vacant. The development group wants to breathe life into the space by attracting new retail, office or entertainment uses, they said.

Woods, who lives in Atlanta but has other real estate holdings in Chattanooga and an ownership stake in the Chattanooga Lookouts, said there are opportunities as malls transition to so-called lifestyle centers.

"As baby boomers get older, they're more into places which have restaurants, health care, fitness," he said. "They don't want to get in their cars and drive."

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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