More than 300 department stores are closing this year, putting about 36 million square feet of vacant space back on the market, according to JLL’s latest retail report Empty to Alive: The Next Use for Department Store Space. Which begs the question, what will become of all that empty space? Well, it’s not all doom and gloom as you’ve probably read in the news. According to our research, we expect to see more restaurants, entertainment venues, grocery stores and even other department stores take up space.
“In the United States nearly half of shopping centers’ gross leasable area (GLA) is devoted to department stores, compared to less than one-third of GLA in the United Kingdom. Retail space isn’t overbuilt, it’s under repurposed. But that’s changing fast,” said James Cook, Director of Retail Research at JLL.
With empty stores on the horizon, mall owners are actively looking to transform anchor space and it’s paying off. “Historically, rents paid by department stores have been extremely low – usually less than $10 per square foot. As they become vacant, owners have a new opportunity to re-tenant the space and create a significant financial boon,” added Greg Maloney, CEO of JLL Retail.
Take for example Seritage Growth Properties, which has 266 properties originally leased to Sears Holdings. It’s now redeveloping and re-leasing space originally held by Sears and Kmart stores to new tenants. JLL’s report revealed that Sears was paying on average about $4.40-per-square-foot across the portfolio. But through repurposing and creatively rethinking about space, Seritage has attracted new tenants who pay on average $18.55-per-square-foot. That’s 4.4 times the previous rental rate. As of March 2017, apparel tenants, restaurants and entertainment venues have made up nearly two-thirds of the new leases.
JLL’s report found that several large-format retail concepts fit well into former department stores:
- I’ll Have What She’s Having: Traditional mall food courts were designed merely as pit stops for consumers to quickly refuel and get back to shopping. But today, restaurants are becoming destinations, and anchors in their own right. The Galleria in Houston is adding a Nobu and Fig & Olive that will occupy a portion of what was once Saks Fifth Avenue. At King of Prussia Mall in suburban Philadelphia, Outback Steakhouse and Yard House have leased part of a former Sears.
- Supermarket Sweep: While you’d be hard-pressed to find many supermarkets in enclosed malls 10 years ago, consumer expectations are changing. According to a GGP 2017 survey, nearly 50 percent of mall shoppers indicated they would like to see a grocer in their local mall. Wegmans, in fact, will soon be taking over a 194,000-square-foot JC Penney footprint at GGP’s Natick Mall in Massachusetts. The grocer will occupy 125,000 square feet and sublet the remaining space.
- Bigger Than the Silver Screen: Along with dining, entertainment tenants are playing a bigger role in shopping centers. A growing number of theaters are moving into former department store space. AMC Theaters will occupy a former Saks Fifth Avenue space at The Shops at Riverside in Hackensack, New Jersey and a Harkins Theaters recently opened in a former Nordstrom space at Los Cerritos Center in Southern California.
It’s not just theaters on consumer’s wish lists. Concepts like Main Event Entertainment and Dave and Busters offer bowling, laser tag, arcade games and karaoke. Dave and Busters has opened three locations in the Seritage portfolio. Other unique types of entertainment are finding their way into vacated department store spaces. At the Florida Mall in Orlando, a Crayola Experience opened in a portion of a former Nordstrom. Kidzania, an indoor kid’s theme park where children can try out different jobs, is expected to open its first U.S. location in Dallas this year.
“Beyond dining and entertainment, categories like fast-fashion, cosmetics, sporting goods, home furnishings, and even department store operators like Von Maur are taking space in former anchor locations,” concluded Holly Rome, Director of National Retail Leasing, JLL. “The best use for an empty anchor will vary and be dictated by the demographics and lifestyles of the surrounding community, but the many options available might come as a pleasant surprise.”