Shop­ping malls strug­gling? Not around here

At­trac­tions, ad­di­tions, even hous­ing en­hance shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Jor­dan Grice

For­get about the mallpoca­lypse.

On­line shop­ping con­tin­ues to do dam­age to re­tail hubs around the na­tion, but for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, south­west­ern Con­necti­cut is its own bub­ble as shop­ping mall own­ers adapt their fa­cil­i­ties to meet shift­ing trends in cus­tomer de­mands.

Though own­ers and man­agers sug­gest the state isn’t ex­empt from the na­tion­wide trend away from malls, many in the re­gion are thriv­ing dur­ing tur­bu­lent times.

“We had to change our think­ing and we had to change as quickly as pos­si­ble into how we view our prop­erty and what works,” said Ken Sterba, gen­eral man­ager of the Con­necti­cut Post mall in Mil­ford. “And we saw that the sales were erod­ing from in­ter­net shop­ping, the lack of new re­tail­ers com­ing on the mar­ket for brick- and- mor­tar stores. You have to find dif­fer­ent ways” to make a mall suc­cess­ful.

Na­tional re­ports have shown va­cancy rates in shop­ping cen­ters na­tion­wide ris­ing to new heights in re­cent years. Clo­sures among de­part­ment store like Macy’s and J. C. Pen­ney have dealt the big­gest blow, and hit lo­cal malls, as well. But suc­cess­ful cen­ters have man­aged to shift with dif­fer­ent trends to at­tract new busi­nesses and vis­i­tors.

Prime lo­ca­tion

In many cases, Sterba said area malls through­out the re­gion like Dan­bury Fair and Stam­ford Town Cen­ter have main­tained their sta­tus as pri­mary re­tail hubs in their re­spec­tive cities. Be­ing in one of the coun­try’s rich­est coun­ties is a ma­jor plus.

“I think we’re ex­empt down here be­cause of not just the pop­u­la­tion, which I be­lieve is grow­ing, but also the house­hold in­come here is higher than other parts of the coun­try, as well,” Sterba said. “I think we are do­ing the right things now.”

Ac­cord­ing to cen­sus data, Fair­field County is the the fourth rich­est metropoli­tan area in Amer­ica, with al­most 20 per­cent of house­holds earn­ing at least $ 200,000 a year.

It’s that mar­ket that has al­lowed the re­gion to not al­low re­frain from clos­ing malls, but in fact build a new one, with the on­go­ing de­vel­op­ment of the SoNo Col­lec­tion mall in Norwalk.

Ex­pe­ri­ence- based ten­ants

In­dus­try ob­servers say re­gional malls have changed with the times. As the rise of re­tail boxes slows, mall own­ers and de­vel­op­ers are cre­at­ing lo­ca­tions for peo­ple to live, work and play.

“( Cus­tomers) don’t want to go to a tra­di­tional big box re­tailer, es­pe­cially when you can buy most of it on­line,” said pro­fes­sor Jose Men­doza of Sa­cred Heart Univer­sity. “The new­est stores that we are go­ing to get … will be stores that em­pha­size a brand ex­pe­ri­ence or a con­sumer- toprod­uct in­ter­ac­tion.”

In Mil­ford, the Con­necti­cut Post mall has sought out new busi­nesses that can boost its en­ter­tain­ment value with cus­tomers, fea­tur­ing a num­ber of a bars and restau­rants along with a long- stand­ing movie theater.

The mall also de­buted its lat­est ad­di­tion with a new Dave & Busters in re­cent weeks. It’s the only lo­ca­tion for the bar/ ar­cade in south­west­ern Con­necti­cut and the sec­ond in the state.

“This tells you the di­rec­tion that we are mov­ing to,” Men­doza

“We had to change our think­ing and we had to change as quickly as pos­si­ble into how we view our prop­erty and what works. And we saw that the sales were erod­ing from in­ter­net shop­ping, the lack of new re­tail­ers com­ing on the mar­ket for brick- and- mor­tar stores.”

Ken Sterba, gen­eral man­ager of the Con­necti­cut Post mall

said, ad­ding that de­vel­op­ers and mall own­ers are “build­ing the mil­len­nial play­ground.”

A step fur­ther

Ad­di­tions of the­aters, aquar­i­ums and even bowl­ing al­leys are rapidly be­com­ing the norm in the mall in­dus­try, which is driv­ing other lo­ca­tions to go even fur­ther.

Across the coun­try de­vel­op­ers are even ad­ding mul­ti­fam­ily hous­ing to their parcels to in­crease foot traf­fic. In Trum­bull’s case, hun­dreds of apart­ments are likely to play a ma­jor role in that mall’s fu­ture.

“We’re not just putting in movies and health clubs, we are also look­ing at other things like bowl­ing.” said Jim Agli­ata, vice pres­i­dent of de­vel­op­ment at West­field, which owns the mall in Trum­bull.“That all brings in more cus­tomers be­cause it’s a broader of­fer­ing to the cus­tomers and it in­creases their dwell time. Those peo­ple also have to eat and shop, so that adds a syn­ergy to the cen­ter.”

West­field of­fi­cials are still await­ing word on their plans for 260 apart­ments units that were pro­posed in June. If ap­proved, the cen­ter which has restau­rants, an LA Fit­ness and a new aquar­ium, would have hun­dreds of shop­pers at its doorstep every day.

Shop­pers look for Black Fri­day deals at the West­field Trum­bull mall in Trum­bull in 2016.

Con­struc­tion work­ers build the SoNo Col­lec­tion Mall in Norwalk in Septem­ber.

Black Fri­day shop­ping at the Dan­bury Fair mall in 2016.

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