CONVERTING MALL PROPERTIES
My prior comments on the decline of the typical shopping mall anchored by major retailer stores was about how e-commerce cuts down operations of brick and mortar shopping. Established major retailers are closing stores by the hundreds and consolidating into more online shopping or merging to survive the shift of how shoppers buy.
It is curious to note that 100 years ago consumer-product catalogs were the center core of retailing. Sears-Roebuck dominated the market for decades, then came the large signature department stores, the likes of Macy’s, Neiman-Marcus and Marshall Fields. Shoppers dressed up to go downtown to see the latest fashions and check household goods, lunch at an upscale restaurant and perhaps attend a theatre.
That was the traditional style of shopping creating the boom in the mid-20th century for regional shopping malls with clustered major retailers and specialty shops under one roof. It all changed again in the digital age.
Visits to the malls is now primarily comparison shopping to online prices by iPhone, hang out at the fast-food stands or attend a movie. No one dresses up. I sometimes wonder who buys those elegant clothes on display. The mall foot traffic looks more like a parade of day laborers going to work in their most casual clothing.
Retailing changed with the overwhelming growth of big-box stores and the e-commerce giants like Amazon. The demise of traditional anchor stores and specialty chain shops is underway. How does that impact the hundreds of big regional malls with millions of square feet going empty?
Major mall owners, like Westfield in San Diego, are optimistic about the future of their properties by undertaking major expansions. Some developers are still trying to build new malls while older ones up the highway are losing tenants.
It reminds me of the futility of the ship’s crew arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Maybe these mall owners and developers see something that escapes me.
A recent spread in The San Diego Union-Tribune (“A bet on brick and mortar”) focused on Westfield’s major overhaul of the UTC mall nearing completion despite the closing of anchor tenants Macy’s and Sears downsizing.
The new, updated retail space is being filled with specialty chain stores and a vast array of entertainment venues. Retail analyst RSR Research predicts that the spending habits of the millennials and Generation Z to follow favors spending their money for entertainment over clothing. The mall needs to be a destination for an experience.
In less-populated areas, regional shopping malls are closing up or being re-developed for other use. With any luck on location, the mall property has appreciated. The owner has options to subdivide and sell off parcels or convert to a new commercial use. Even Westfield at UTC plans a 22-storey high-end residential tower on its property.
Many of the large REITS with real estate holdings including shopping malls have seen their stock market value drop as much as 25%.The decline and closure of malls can also hit banks and mortgage companies carrying loans.
Then there is the loss of retailing jobs. The Economist predicts about 12% or 1.5 million jobs will be redundant by 2022 if e-commerce grows at the present rate.