Department stores that traditionally anchored malls, drawing customers who also shopped at smaller mall retailers, are cutting back as online sales surge. Wilton Mall lost two of its department store anchors — Bon-Ton and Sears — within the past six months.
And Sears closed its enormous store at Colonie Center back in 2017. That space remains vacant.
Solutions in the Capital Region have ranged from an office containing hundr of state taxation and finance employees filling a former Macy’s store at ViaPort Rotterdam, to two smaller retailers splitting a former Filene’s anchor between them at Crossgates Mall in Guilderland.
Other malls have abandoned the interior corridors and reinvented themselves as open-air shopping centers, shedding the blank brick boxes for outward facing stores with parking out front. Among them: Mohawk Mall in Niskayuna, now Mohawk Commons; Northway Mall in Colonie, now Northway Shopping Center; and Latham Circle Mall, now The Shoppes at Latham Circle.
“These large spaces are being filled and reconfigured for a variety of purposes that benefit the property and community,” said Stephanie Cegielski, vice president for public relations for the International Council of Shopping Centers. “There are many options for large spaces, and what will go into big box locations varies based on the ne of the community.”
“Getting a customer to the mall” is the main goal of shopping center managements, said Rocky Ferraro, who chairs the planning board in suburban Clifton Park. To that end they’re adding everything from hotels — Clifton Park Center has two — to restaurants and even apartment buildings.
Windsor Companies has completed a four-story building that includes apartments and restaurants. Residence 15 occupies space formerly dedicated to parking at Village Plaza shopping center, in Clifton Park directly across from Clifton Park Center.
At Crossgates, developer Pyramid Companies erected a dual-brand hotel and now touts shopping weekends with purchases delivered to your room. Entertainment options include a multi-screen cinema, a sports bar and video game arcade, a comedy club and an escape room, as well as the new indoor trampoline park.
The hotels may also be popular with business travelers.
“When you’re on the road, the mall gives you a lot of choices in terms of food and entertainment,” said Howard Carr, who heads The Howard Group, a Capital Region-based commercial real estate developer and broker. “Or, you can go shopping.”
In one Massachusetts mall, “we had a grocery store go out, and 53,000 square feet came back to us,” Carr said. A local hospital put him in touch with some physicians’ groups, and the space was soon filled.
Patients would undergo physical therapy while whoever brought them there could go shoppping, with a beeper to summon them when the patient was ready to go home.
Perhaps the most unusual draw thus far for a shopping mall is the aquarium that the new owners of Rotterdam Square, now ViaPort Rotterdam, installed. The aquarium is hosting a Valentine’s Day dinner with a multi-course meal for couples looking for something a little out of the ordinary.
And some retailers are still expanding. TJMaxx Companies has said it plans to add hundr of stores in the long term, including 400 Home Goods and 800 TJMaxx and Marshall’s, according to The Motley Fool website.
A Home Goods store at Wilton Mall occupies nearly as much space as an anchor store might. Other large retailers at Wilton Mall include Ulta Beauty and Dick’s Sporting Goods. A freestanding BJ’s Wholesale Club is in the far corner of the mall’s parking lot.
Carr suggests one possible plan might be to turn the wing formerly anchored by Bon-Ton and which has lost Forever 21 and will soon lose Charlotte Russe, two women‘s clothing stores, into a restaurant wing, with Bon-Ton redeveloped into housing.
A spokesman at Wilton Mall declined to say what management was planning for the now-empty spaces.