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Sick malls and local merchants

Dan

Dear Leader
Staff member
Moderator
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18,815
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http://www.planetizen.com/news/item.php?id=11970, referring to this Wall Street Journal article regarding reviving dead malls:

It seems like much of the strategy used by the mall doctor Rene Daniel, featured in the article, is "get rid of the local merchants." A few excerpts:

When Mr. Daniel took over management of Coventry five years ago, the 1960s-era mall was undersize, tired-looking and, at 36% vacant, bleeding tenants. ... It also had too many locals, like Westies Shoes, drawing too little traffic.
...
Step one: Fix the food. Coventry had a six-stall food court with mostly local operators, "Hot Dogs & More," "Egg Roll Hut" -- but no burgers. McDonald's Corp. agreed to open a small 1,000-square-foot operation in 1999 and was followed by a Subway Restaurants outlet (replacing a local operator, Daniel's Deli), Saladworks Inc. (into a vacant spot) and other chains.
...
While physical renovations can help faltering malls, getting undesirable tenants out is more important. Sometimes Mr. Daniel has to get tough. To force out Musselman's Jewelers, which generated only $467,000 in sales in 2001, he rented a spot across the hall to a Zale Corp. store, which generated about $900,000 in 2002. The Musselman's closed about two years ago.
This goes against the grain of a core belief of many Cyburbia users; that local merchants should be embraced at all costs against the big bad chains.

I will admit that an indicator of the impeding death of a mall, IMHO, is the presence of a large amount of local retailers -- really, one-outlet independent retailers -- compared to a more prosperous mall. The local stores don't have the marketing, the store decor is bland, signage is amateurish, and the product sold too niche or inappropriate for a mall setting. When you think about it, you don't see successful African art boutiques, head shops, antiques consignment sales or waterbed stores in too many prosperous malls. Local retailers in many malls are inevitably low-end, too, with names like "Hamburgers and More" or "Hot Dogs Etcetera".

So, is it possible for a mall to have a large amount of local retailers and still prosper? What types of local retailers will work in a mall environment, and not being the place down?
 
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5,352
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Judging from what happened to a lot of local merchants in the New Orleans area, their problem was not necessarily competition from the big bad box chains, but from internal strife and whatnot. The business was passed on to the second and third generations who most likely didn't have the wherewithal to keep the business going or just didn't care and ended up selling it to a corporate chain.

D.H. Holmes Department Store- sold to Dillard's
Godchaux's Department Store - closed
Maison Blanche Department Store - closed
K&B Drugs - sold to Rite-Aid
Krauss' Department Store - closed
Schweggman's Supermarkets - bankrupt due to greed
Canal Villere Supermarkets - bought out by Schweggman's but eventually closed

I'm sure there are more but that's all that come to mind right now. Many locals lament the closing of these stores and would still shop there if they were still open. When Rite-Aid bought K&B, locals were furious to learn that Rite-Aid only sold Pepsi products. This is the South and this is Coca-Cola land. After a few months of severely low sales due to locals boycotting, Rite-Aid made an exception to the rule and added Coca-Cola products to their shelves.

But going back to the main question at hand, I'm not sure if a mall can survive if it has a large amount of local merchants. People go to the mall for easily identifiable and accessible product that they can get in a relatively short amount of time. They go to local merchants for that niche or unique product that takes time to locate and the atmosphere is more pleasant and relaxed. I think the more successful local merchants are concentrated in areas that are open and walkable along small-scale neighborhood streets. Putting them in a large mall environment would most likely kill that unique shopping experience.
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,080
Points
34
Most of the retail magazines and the organizations suggest that there is a desirable blend of local and regional/national outlets in malls. More often, it is the presence of unique local merchants that helps to distinguish one mall from another, hence providing some incentive to shop there. The ratios I have heard used are in the 70:30 or 80:20 range. The smaller number, of course, is the percentage of local merchants. Still, I would think that the quality of the local merchant is important. They need to make a contribution to the appeal of the place, not draw it down by having a dingy store with second-rate merchandise.
 

Dan

Dear Leader
Staff member
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18,815
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Planderella said:
D.H. Holmes Department Store- sold to Dillard's
Godchaux's Department Store - closed
Maison Blanche Department Store - closed
K&B Drugs - sold to Rite-Aid
Krauss' Department Store - closed
Schweggman's Supermarkets - bankrupt due to greed
Canal Villere Supermarkets - bought out by Schweggman's but eventually closed
.
Buffalo had the whole assortment of local drug store and department store chains, too. The last locally-owned department store chain, and perhaps the mose beloved, Adam Meldrum and Anderson, was sold to Bon-Ton several years ago. After promises to keep the downtown store open, it closed about a year after it was acquired.

Malls used to be filled with local merchants, but they were local chains, and they seemed to have as much marketing and presentation savvy as the national retailers of the time. Local department store, shoe store. men's store, and women's store chains had the same sophistication -- which wasn't much back in the 1970s and 1980s -- as their national competitors.

There is a shopping mall in Aurora, Colorado called Buckingham Square.. Classic 1960s-era mall, essentially intact inside; there has never been a renovation. Last time I saw it, the place was about 40% vacant, and there were a lot of local merchants -- but they were of the Scotch Tape store variety. An ethnic/hip-hop clothing store, a furniture store that carried very tacky rococco furniture, a store that carried rugs with tiger stripe patterns, and so on. The signs were 8'x4" painted plywood sheets, and they carried far more information than the store name; a list of the products, the phone number, and so on. These were signs that you would see on a mom & pop business in the inner city, not in a shopping mall. Let's see part of their current tenant list:

Kim's Wig Botik
BBB Fashion
Things That Glow
Forbidden City Buffet
Martial Arts Tae Kwon Do
Touba International
Nail Gazebo
Igor's T-Shirts

The mall is in an upper middle class neighborhood, too, which makes the tenant mix even more of a mystery.

A mall near where I lived in Kansas City had a walker and cane store, a cat adoption place, a youth theater, and a tub refinisher. Not the sorts of merchants that get people out to the mall.

Still, though ... the mall in Philly kicking out a local jeweller? Did the store look like a poor independent retailer, or is it relatively sophisticated? Are they kicking out downscale local retailers like "Pagers and Things," or high quality businesses? What about those businesses you used to see in malls everywhere, but very seldom now, like organ and sheet music stores? Maybe locals can work in a mall -- if they look like mall stores, and not low-budget operations.
 

ilikefish0

Cyburbian
Messages
204
Points
9
Dan said:
A mall near where I lived in Kansas City had a walker and cane store, a cat adoption place, a youth theater, and a tub refinisher. Not the sorts of merchants that get people out to the mall.

I'll agree with you about KC. I was there last summer for a family reunion (turns out I'm decent at horseshoes), and I had to visit several malls (i.e. Mecalf South, etc.) before I found an operating food court.

A lot of "the local problem" comes from developers oversaturating an area with malls. A national chain can only maintain so many outlets in one area, and these will generally concentrate in newer malls. As more mall space is built, old malls become gradually abandoned, allowing local merchant to swoop in and pick up retail space for a song.
 

ludes98

Cyburbian
Messages
1,264
Points
22
Dan said:
Still, though ... the mall in Philly kicking out a local jeweller? Did the store look like a poor independent retailer, or is it relatively sophisticated?

Hmm one tenant's sales are twice the competitor's. I wonder who can pay more rent?

I do support local businesses, but for me they have to be a little specialized and provide that personal service that makes them great. I really enjoy stores where the owner operates the business and takes pride in what they do. I frequent one such eating establishment where they remember my name, and I keep going! If I want unintelligent employees and no service I can hit a national chain or big box.
 

metroboi

Cyburbian
Messages
49
Points
2
Dan said:
....
So, is it possible for a mall to have a large amount of local retailers and still prosper? What types of local retailers will work in a mall environment, and not being the place down?

This is my first post here, so I apoligise if posting photos is inappropriate.

I think the answer is yes in some cases. Here is an example of a revived mall in that has managed to do this but not in a way that you would expect.

Here are some pics of the ressurected Tryon Mall in Charlotte NC. It was a 1960s enclosed mall which had fallen into major decline by the late 1980s. At one time it was anchored by a Woolco and People's Department stores and had many of the typical mall stores inside. I realize it looks like a strip mall, but it is actually an enclosed mall. By the early 90's it was mostly closed and and there was a good deal of crime in the area.

Several years ago two Asian sisters bought it and have been slowly reviving it back into a viable retail establishment. They were assisted by a special loan from one of the city's banks. Today there are at least 6 restaurants, two very large Oriential grocery stores, and many smaller shops and stores catering mostly to the Asian community, but anyone is welcome to shop there. Most of the crime has disappeared as well.

I took these photos about a month ago so they are fairly recent. What do you think of this revival?




 

jordanb

Cyburbian
Messages
3,232
Points
25
I don't see it so much as the local merchants being unable to support the mall, but that the mall format is unable to support local mercahnts. Malls can only survive with big box anchors and a long list of chains.

Clearly, the focus should not be on trying to save the mall, but creating a venue where local merchants can prosper.
 

Dan

Dear Leader
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18,815
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69
jordanb said:
Clearly, the focus should not be on trying to save the mall, but creating a venue where local merchants can prosper.
And that seems to be urban, pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods. Even then, though, it takes the right mis of merchants to make such an area vibrant and active.

Take Hertel Avenue in Buffalo, for instance. We're looking at a mile and a half long strip of 1920-era commercial buildings, with storefronts right on the sidewalk. The street is clean, and the adjacent neighborhoods are solidly middle and upper middle class. There are few vacancies along Hertel Avenue. Excepting the drugstores, all the merchants are local. However, there's almost no pedestrian traffic; the street looks dead. Why? The tenant mix is terrible; there's exterminators, television repair shops, insurance offices, bodybuilding supply stores, and other uses that don't generate pedestrian traffic. There are some uses that would generate pedestrian traffic, but the dynamic is off.
 
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94
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4
I agree with metroboi, in my opinion, it depends on the mall's location and intended customer mix. Gateway Mall in North Jacksonville is an example of an older mall finding a niche to survive in today's market by serving the needs and wants of its surrounding neighborhood.

The 633,000sf mall was the city's premier shopping center when it opened up during the mid 50's. However by the late 80's, most of its stores, including JCPenney and Zarye had either moved on to new malls or closed.

A little over 5 years ago, investors purchased the property, renovated it, with the help of the city, and now its a pretty successful african-american oriented shopping center that caters to the low income, but dense neighborhoods around it. The only chain stores operating there today are Publix (a grocery store), Footlocker, and Athlete's Foot.
 
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