Investors said Monday that they have bought Pinole Vista Shopping Center, adding the complex to a growing list of East Bay retail centers that are enticing buyers.

Pinole Vista's buyer was Retail Opportunity Investments Corp., a firm based in New York. The price for the 165,000-square-foot complex was bought for $20.8 million. CB Richard Ellis, a commercial realty firm, arranged the transaction.

Retail Opportunity is no stranger to East Bay retail. In April, the company paid $13.7 million for Pleasant Hill Marketplace, a 71,000-square-foot shopping center.

"We are pleased to announce the (purchase) of this dominant grocery anchored shopping centers, part of an active and strong year of acquisitions for the company," Stuart Tanz, Retail Opportunity's chief executive officer, said of the Pinole Vista deal.

Pinole Vista, which was sold by a group of Southern California investors, is anchored by Kmart, Lucky and Dollar Tree, although the Lucky building wasn't included in the purchase because it's under separate ownership.

So far, Retail Opportunity has acquired ownership and interests in 25 shopping centers that together total more than 2.8 million square feet, Tanz said.

The acquisitions of Pinole Vista and other centers could be an indication that the chilly retail sector of commercial real estate is beginning to thaw.

"There has definitely been some firming in retail," said Don LeBuhn, a vice president with CB Richard Ellis.

The implosion of the economy in 2008 and 2009 had caused more than a few investors to sour on retail properties. However, the slump in values triggered by the recession may have begun to abate.

"A a lot of owners have noticed a recent uptick in activity," said Kevin Kovar, an associate with CB Richard Ellis. "Prices and values have begun to rise for quality core properties, such as Pinole Vista."

Other centers are selling, and some for eye-popping prices.

  • Last week, Jamestown, a Germany-based investment fund, paid $181 million for Alameda Towne Centre, 595,000-square-foot complex along the Alameda shoreline. That mall's primary anchors are Kohl's, Ross, Safeway, Trader Joe's, TJ Maxx, Old Navy, Bed Bath & Beyond, Beverly's and Walgreens.

  • In November, downtown Pleasant Hill was bought for more than $70 million by a fund led by Loja Group. The 365,000-square-foot urban center involved in the sale is essentially a retail complex anchored by a 14-screen Century Theaters movie center, Lucky, Borders Books, Bed Bath & Beyond, Ross and a Michael's crafts store.

  • In June, investors bought an 88,000-square-foot former Mervyn's store in Fairfield and promptly landed a Forever 21 store to fill much of the empty retail building.

  • A Loja Group fund paid $44 million in January 2010 for a Safeway-anchored retail center in Dublin called Shops at Waterford.

    These properties weren't in distress or foreclosure, brokers noted. Far from it: They are considered good retail centers in fine locations. Buyers may be seeking these kinds of properties as a way to ward off economic travails.

    "Investors are looking for grocery-anchored centers," LeBuhn said. "Centers anchored by grocery and drugstores are kind of recession proof."