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by Jenn Abelson

Massachusetts is outpacing the rest of the country in attracting businesses to fill large vacant retail spaces, fueling optimism that the state’s economic recovery is gaining momentum.

Merchants have signed leases for more than half of the roughly 2 million square feet abandoned by struggling and bankrupt chains such as Circuit City, Linens ‘N Things, and CompUSA, according to local data provided by several real estate brokers.

The state’s success in luring major retailers has resulted in the arrival of new companies to the region, such as Savers and Ultimate Electronics, and allowed established merchants like Best Buy to strengthen their control of market niches.

In the Boston area, vacancy rates at shopping plazas dominated by big-box merchants dropped from 6.6 percent to 5.8 percent during the first quarter, marking the first such decline in eight quarters. By contrast, the amount of empty space at these so-called power centers across the United States increased slightly, to 7.9 percent, during the same period, according to Reis Inc., a New York real estate research firm.

Evidence of the Massachusetts retail resurgence can be seen throughout the region. In Plymouth, workers are transforming the skeleton of a Circuit City into a Best Buy that is scheduled to open in the fall. The Minnesota electronics giant has already taken over spaces formerly occupied by Circuit City in Millbury and Burlington.

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