What do Sears closures mean for Memphis-area malls?
Southland, Wolfchase both face new challenges
Southland Mall and Wolfchase Galleria will each face a challenge now that Sears has announced that its stores in both malls will soon close.
Sears has a massive footprint inside both malls and serves as an anchor store meant to entice shoppers to come inside, not only to buy from Sears but to support other stores as well.
The Wolfchase Sears will close by the end of December while the Southland Sears will close by the end of February.
The loss of an anchor store can often mean a mall is more likely to fail if the space can’t be filled quickly. However, economists and retail experts say the loss of Sears means something unique to each mall whose futures are likely to be vastly different.
Southland Mall, which also lost its Macy’s in a wave of closures in 2015 and was purchased by Spinoso Real Estate Group in a foreclosure sale the following year, will be in a precarious position once Sears leaves it without an anchor store, said John Gnuschke, an economist with the University of Memphis.
“With no major anchor stores, every mall will have financial difficulties and Southland is no exception,” Gnuschke said. “Southland has been in transition for a long time and has depended on smaller independent stores to remain open. The loss of Sears will be a major setback for the mall that will be very difficult to offset.”
When Macy’s closed, the space remained vacant for months as the retail giant first attempted to sell it, then auction it off. That could be a sign that Sears, which owns the portion of the building that houses its store, may also
have a difficult time selling as well. The longer the space sits empty, the more difficult it will be for the mall to rebound.
“The probability the mall will close is increased by the loss of its last anchor store,” Gnuschke said. “The mall may be able to sustain itself with a non-anchor strategy depending on the mall’s financial strength and its ability to maintain or grow its customer base. But keeping the mall open has just gotten harder for its owners.”
Spokespeople for Southland Mall and Spinoso Real Estate Group did not respond to requests for comment.
At Wolfchase Galleria in Cordova, the loss of Sears is less of a blow because it still has three other anchors in Macy’s, JCPenney and Dillard’s. Wolfchase also has fast fashion retailers like Forever 21, Charlotte Russe and H&M, which have not set up shop at Southland Mall.
Still that doesn’t mean that Wolfchase won’t have to come up with a strategy to fill the space.
“The impact of the Sears closure will be more devastating for Southland but the closures are serious for both malls,” Gnuschke said.
Future of Southland Mall needs creative thinking
It’s not clear what will replace Sears at either mall but Simon Property Group, which owns Wolfchase Galleria, has been experimenting with replacing shuttered Sears stores with restaurants, hotels, residential spaces and fitness centers.
If Southland Mall can do the same, that could mean a vibrant future, said Shawn Massey, of The Shopping Center Group.
“I am actually more excited about the potential for Sears store to be reimagined in Whitehaven than Wolfchase,” Massey said. “I think that an irrelevant retailer who no longer serves the customer located on one of the best corners in Whitehaven can be reimagined into something else.”
Massey’s company isn’t involved in the effort to find a replacement for the Sears. However, he said a creative developer could find a solution that solidifies the future of the Whitehaven mall. He points to examples of malls that have transformed Sears locations into affordable housing options that bring new residents into the area and can often mean a boost for the mall.
There is one space however that Massey sees as a possibility for new retail: What is now the Sears Auto Center at the corner of East Shelby Drive and Elvis Presley Boulevard “would make a great restaurant or retailer location,” Massey said.
“I do not believe there are any current plans but... a progressive developer who is willing to listen the community residents could really make an incredible project come to life,” Massey added. “It needs a visionary and a team to make it happen.”
Desiree Stennett can be reached at desiree.stennett@ commercialappeal.com, 901-529-2738 or on Twitter: @desi_stennett.