To combat retail apocalypse, local malls push for shopping innovation
By Kara Driscoll
April 30, 2017
As retailers nationwide struggle to keep brick-and-mortar stores open, local malls are trying new tactics to reel in Dayton shoppers.
Despite the hovering “retail apocalypse,” local developments like The Mall at Fairfield Commons, Dayton Mall and The Greene Town Center in Beavercreek are reinventing their missions by adding unconventional tenants and offering free and frequent events for the community.
Major national retailers, many of them that typically anchor malls and shopping complexes, are in crisis as online shopping disrupts the industry. A new research report from brokerage firm Credit Suisse estimated that more than 8,600 stores will close this year, up from the 2,065 that closed last year and the 5,077 store closures in 2015.
The impact of the closures is far-ranging, impacting the job market and retail destinations in Dayton, Springfield and Northern Cincinnati. Around 100 stores have closed or will close in Ohio this year.
“When you’re talking about sales that go to online-only retailers that don’t have a presence here, that’s a shift in consumer demand,” said Gordon Gough, president and CEO of the Ohio Council for Retail Merchants. “Will it have an impact on the local economies? Sure.”
In the last month, retail sales grew just 0.3 percent compared to February and 2.8 percent compared to the same time in 2016, according to the National Retail Federation. However, online sales jumped more than 11 percent compared to the same time last year.
“Various factors were at play in the first quarter, but we are again seeing a pattern similar to previous years — consumer spending was weak but is expected to pick up as we move through the year,” said Jack Kleinhenz, NRF chief economist.
The stores closing in Ohio — RadioShack, Sears, JC Penney, BCBGMAXAZRIA, Bebe, Rue21 — are often located in malls or shopping complexes. Stores like Ann Taylor and The Limited closed months ago at The Greene, and retail space was left vacant and ready to lease.
At some local malls, several restaurants and retailers have closed, mimicking national trends. Express, a men’s and women’s clothing store, closed at the Dayton Mall in late January. BCBGMAXAZRIA, a women’s clothing store, will close a store at the Premium Outlet Malls in Monroe and has already closed another in Jeffersonville.
Kristie Miller, general manager of the Mall at Fairfield Commons, told this news organization that successful shopping complexes have to adapt quickly in a “rapid retail environment.”
“With our leasing efforts, we try to introduce new and exciting tenants as well as keep the ones that reinvest in our center,” she said. “It’s also just about reminding our community that brands come and go. I think when we have a store closing, to the public it seems like, ‘Oh, gosh. They’re closing. They’re going out of business.’”
Miller said when tenants leave, it just creates an opportunity to bring in a fresh concept. Back in February, Phantom Pizza closed its space in the food court. However, the mall announced it would add a new restaurant, Gyro King, to the mix.
That restaurant and Hannoush Jewelers add to the list of several other retailers moving in. Francesca’s, Vanity and Knot Too Shabby have all opened in recent months, and Fusian and Melt Bar & Grilled will also have a presence at the mall.
Columbus-based Washington Prime Group, which owns and operates the Dayton Mall and the Mall at Fairfield Commons, reported that in the first quarter net income grew 7 percent to more than $14 million, from more than $13 million during the same time last year.
However, revenue dropped 4 percent to $202 million during the three months that ended on March 31. That was down from the $210 million revenue reported a year earlier at the same time. The company said it will use “hard work and common sense” to address the harsh and changing retail environment.
“The idea of ‘winner take all’ is just plain silly,” said Lou Conforti, CEO of Washington Prime Group. “There exists a symbiotic relationship between physical space and e-commerce which affords us an opportunity upon which we will continue to capitalize.”
One solution for waning sales is making retail a “destination experience.”
For The Greene Towne Center in Beavercreek, it’s about appealing to every customer through a variety of retailers and free events. The center’s calendar is packed with races, charity events, live music, holiday festivities, fireworks and store sales.
Most recently, the center has added new retailers like Griffin & Co., Blinded by Aerolux and will soon add Jaeluxe Shoetique and restaurant Deg’s Chicken. Kelli Kooken, marketing director for the center, told this news organization in a previous interview that The Greene’s brand revolved around uniqueness.
“Even when it looked like The Greene might’ve been stagnant, we always had something in the works,” she said. “Some new business was coming or someone was in the works of signing a lease.”