If you haven’t been to a shopping mall in a long time, why not check one out? But brace yourself first because you’ll be stunned by what it looks like these days. Many of the huge anchor stores that once drew countless customers have fallen off of the landscape, and many of their smaller but still well-known competitors are also shuttering their doors. The myriads of consumers who used to lug shopping bags full of merchandise, stop at the food outlets, and walk around with smiles on their faces also are missing these days. No wonder so many malls have closed, while others are barely hanging on. They just aren’t fun places to go to anymore.
But where many see liquidation, ruin, and default, Yaromir Steiner and his co-developers see innovation, profits, and opportunities – lots of them. In fact, they’re so certain that they’re onto something that they’re risking $500 million to expand the Easton Town Center mall in Columbus, Ohio, undoubtedly one of the very few such expansions being made in the country and possibly the only one of this magnitude.
This move truly takes courage, as so many retailers continue to fail and malls continue to fall. As of last year only some 1,200 were left, and analysts expect that about a quarter of them will be gone within the next four years.
Mall Of The Future
What Steiner envisions is not another garden-variety mall like the ones that are closing. This Turkish developer is planning to make Easton Center into a town; not just a place to shop, but into a modern, convenient, and fun place to live.
When expansion and renovations are completed there will be 700 apartments and virtually every kind of store a shopper could want. People will live, work, and play there, shop for all of their groceries, go out for dinner at one of their restaurants, find entertainment at one of their clubs, stop off for pizza, or simply go for a walk and relax on a bench under a tree – the same as they would in any other town.
Twenty years ago, Steiner co-developed Easton into a 90-acre parcel of land that already has 240 stores, and unlike the malls and retailers in most other areas, it is thriving.
The vibrant business he has done in Columbus over the past 20 years is proof enough of his understanding of the retail industry. Steiner believes that going forward, the customers who already patronize Easton and others will want more of the same: additional stores, new apartments, a new hotel, and 16 more acres of retail and office space. And he’s preparing to provide those. When completed, Easton will have been fully transformed from a profitable, well-run mall into right out of Tomorrow Land.
Columbus is not just another small city. It is unique because to a great extent its population is a microcosm that closely resembles America. Marketers choose Columbus to test new products and strategies, to analyze the latest trends, to study which products shoppers want, how much they are willing to pay for them, and which retailing techniques and strategies are drawing in crowds.
Despite Steiner’s track record, not everyone agrees that spending $500 million to expand Easton Center is a good idea. “I’ve never heard anyone, when they’re shopping for houses, who says, ‘Easton.’ It strikes me as completely odd to live there,” says Bart Elmore, a professor at Ohio State University and a Columbus resident.
Nevertheless, Steiner is convinced that his brainchild will work. “People love it here,” he says, optimistic that he has tapped into the consumers’ mood and that the expansion he envisions is not just bells and whistles that will fall apart after an initial burst of interest.
Cookies And Cookie Cutters
The ultimate success or failure of this project will obviously be important not only to Steiner and the consumers who patronize Easton, but also to shoppers across the country. That’s because if the mall-in-town proves to be as popular as Steiner thinks it will be, the concept will spread across the country.
Already Easton is a good argument that the traditional brick and mortar way of retailing is not as dead as some believe. While there are no Sears or J.C. Penney stores there, the mall does boast Nordstrom and J.Crew. There are fast-food outlets like Sbarro and five-star restaurants, a comedy club, and, perhaps most interesting, a futuristic outlet called “Shop Lab,” a concept launched very recently where online-only brands try out physical retail; what a novel change that would present.
Walmart is one of the giants that have picked up on this strategy and will be testing it at a minimum of 12 locations. In the past, Walmart opened in the edge of a town and shoppers were forced to go there. Now the giant retailer is changing gears and taking its business to the town.
“We want to provide community space, areas for the community to dwell,” L. B. Johnson, vice president of realty operations, recently said, “and we want to augment these experiences and activities with more food and beverage, with health and fitness, essential services, and entertainment.”
The idea is to give people a reason they will want to come to Walmart besides buying their groceries, getting a prescription filled, or buying soap. “Give people something to do, then they will shop,” Ken Nisch, chairman of retail design firm JGA, said about malls. “But shopping can’t be the only thing to do.”
A variation of this idea will also be tested in New York City in Hudson Yards, a very major retail project under development on the West Side of Manhattan.
If these become popular you can bet that many more will open. There is no question that in general, retail is on the ropes, but while down it’s not out. There may be a future in retail for malls to look more like towns, and that would be a bright light and much-needed shot in the arm for an industry that has had more than seven years of scarcity. Are you paying attention, Amazon?
Robert Remin is an independent agent licensed and certified with all the pertinent Medicare carriers in the New York Metro area. As an unbiased resource, his only goal is to match you to the most appropriate plan. For any questions, or a cost-free consultation, contact him at 914-629-1753 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or through www.robertremininsurance.com.