Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Retailers Expand Out of Old Boxes to Win Customer Dollars

An increasing number of big-name retailers are venturing out of their traditional shopping mall settings into relatively modest shopping centers and mixed-use complexes, according to Matthew Harding, president and chief operating officer at Levin Management Corp. in North Plainfield.An increasing number of big-name retailers are venturing out of their traditional shopping mall settings into relatively modest shopping centers and mixed-use complexes, according to Matthew Harding, president and chief operating officer at Levin Management Corp. in North Plainfield. Levin is the state’s largest manager of retail space with a portfolio of

6 million square feet across 40 properties.

Harding says driving that trend is a widespread consumer desire for “more efficient shopping trips” where they spend as little time as possible getting in and out of their cars. “Historically, it used to be a form of recreation to spend hours at a mall,” he says. But of late, people have less spare time, especially those in two-income households where partners share household chores, Harding adds.

Parking in open-air shopping centers is typically closer to the retail outlets than in large, covered malls, says Harding. He adds open-air centers are easier to navigate than covered malls, where it is not uncommon for shoppers to get lost in a mall maze. Levin does not manage malls in New Jersey although it handles some in other states.

Harding says premium retailers like Gap, Ann Taylor and Banana Republic that once could be found only in places like the Bergen Mall, Bridgewater Commons and the Freehold Raceway Mall, have taken up space in the “Shoppes at North Brunswick,” a new lifestyle center that opened last month in the Middlesex County township. Levin manages the 122,000-square-foot North Brunswick retail center for its owner, Stanbury Development of Columbus, Ohio. Harding says the other prominent tenants in the fully-leased center include Starbucks, Talbots and Coldwater Creek.

In recognition of this shifting trend, the big covered malls like Bridgewater Commons and Freehold Raceway Mall are setting up the equivalent of outdoor shopping centers on their properties. “If you can’t beat them, you join them,” says Harding of the malls’ competitive strategy. “In fact, some of the newer covered shopping malls being planned these days factor in an outdoor shopping component, too.”

As regional shopping centers start attracting tenants out of the big malls, they, too, are losing ground to smaller, neighborhood shopping centers, says Jeffrey Dash, vice president of leasing at the Lakewood-based Lightstone Group, a large owner of retail, residential and hospitality properties nationwide.

“You are getting a lot of national and regional users looking for a play in smaller centers,” says Dash. “It’s like wanting to be a big fish in smaller ponds.” Lightstone recently leased space in the Millburn Mall in Union to regional food chain Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries of Baltimore and a Staples superstore.

Dash expects retailers across the spectrum to revisit their theories about what profile works best for them as markets mature and competition for customer dollars gets stronger. “Nowadays, I see even small mom and pop operations with a few locations doing their own market research and getting more sophisticated,” he says.

NJBIZ Business Events