VOL. 122 | NO. 58 | Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Malled by the Competition
By Eric Smith
UPHILL CLIMB: As these patrons lounge on a bench at Hickory Ridge Mall, plans are swirling to solidify the mall's competitive position by relying more on its neighborhood niche. -- Photo By Eric Smith
Editor's note: This is the third in The Daily News' five-part Retail Reinvented series about the past - and future - of the local shopping landscape.
Pat Jacobs knows a thing or two about Memphis malls. He served as general manager of Southland Mall for 18 years before taking the same job at Hickory Ridge Mall in 2003.
So Jacobs speaks from decades of experience when discussing how Hickory Ridge needs to adapt to the area's changing demographics and the building of newer malls elsewhere.
"Obviously, we're repositioning the mall right now in the face of redevelopment, which is ongoing and will be ongoing," he said. "Existing properties just have to hone out their niche and focus on that."
Now in its 26th year, Hickory Ridge's niche has changed. Because of departures by national chain stores, the mall has more darkened doors than it did in its heyday of the early 1980s, but Jacobs said he believes the mall can rebound by focusing on its immediate clientele.
"We are downtown Hickory Hill," he said. "We've got a very loyal base here in Hickory Hill and the greater Hickory Hill area, even touching into northern Mississippi. It's basically our neighborhood to serve."
'Out of the loop'
Hickory Ridge Mall was a smashing success when it opened in 1981. Bolstered by anchor stores Goldsmith's and Sears, the mall attracted a wide array of specialty stores, from apparel to music to sporting goods, plus a host of food-court staples and even a cinema.
It also attracted an array of shoppers. The mall was conveniently located in Southeast Memphis, especially for anyone driving along Winchester Road through the growing Hickory Hill area.
Before long, however, the mall's location became a burden. Development moved east, as evidenced by the opening of Wolfchase Galleria in 1997 at Interstate 40 and Germantown Parkway, and Tenn. 385 cutting eastward toward Collierville and curling north from there.
Hickory Ridge Mall was, quite literally, left out of the loop.
"Everything has transitioned and moved a little farther east," said Danny Buring, managing partner of The Shopping Center Group. "The new highway came in and kind of cut people off. Now, they're having to reinvent themselves."
That reinvention began in 1997, when Hickory Ridge underwent extensive renovation. But reinvention was forced on the mall in 2005, when anchor Dillard's closed its doors because of newly opened stores in Collierville's The Avenue Carriage Crossing and Southaven Towne Center.
"Their choice to be in The Avenue and then the Southaven Center left this one sort of stuck in the middle," Jacobs said, "so they opted to close it."
Out of sight ...
Whenever an anchor pulls out, that means loss of revenue and traffic, but it actually could have been much worse for Hickory Ridge. Fortunately, Dillard's was tucked away at the end of the mall's rear corridor, keeping the boarded windows and doors somewhat out of sight for shoppers.
"For lack of a better phrase, you could say the damage was confined to one wing," said Scott Barton, vice president of retail services at CB Richard Ellis Memphis. "The retailers who are in the front of the mall, in either the Sears or Macy's wings, are minimally affected."
Jacobs, who wouldn't disclose occupancy rates for the mall, said the mall has been actively seeking a replacement, not an easy task considering the massive hole of about 150,000 square feet that needs to be filled.
"We've been looking at a lot of mass merchandise, new retail, probably new use to the area, but it's really early in those negotiations to name anybody at this time," Jacobs said.
Another hole for Hickory Ridge, one that's much more noticeable, is on the front of the property. The closure of Applebee's Neighborhood Bar & Grill, though much smaller than Dillard's, is apparent to anyone driving by.
And vibrant outparcels - the standalone stores on the perimeter of a mall - help boost traffic and consumer confidence.
"It helps create a perception of activity and success of the mall when you've got viable restaurants and retailers on the outparcels for a mall property," Barton said. "If the converse were true and you had vacant buildings lining the front of a mall property, it's just not as inviting."
SunTrust Bank has a branch on one of the outparcels, and Hickory Ridge recently replaced Pier 1 with Jacquard Home Fashions. Soon, Jacobs hopes to fill the Applebee's building.
"We do have a strong prospect for it, but we're not quite close enough to identify it yet," he said. "But a good restaurant use that is needed for the area. That'll be a bonus for us and the Hickory Hill area."
Hickory Ridge isn't the only longstanding mall to undergo changes. In many ways, Raleigh Springs Mall experienced many of Hickory Ridge Mall's growing pains first.
Built in 1971, Raleigh Springs Mall was at the forefront of America's mall craze. It was developed by the former Edward J. DeBartolo Corp., one of the leaders of U.S. mall design and construction.
"It was a bell ringer," said Gary Myers, who was the mall's general manager from 1977 to 1980. "There was only Southland and Raleigh Springs for that kind of shopping experience. It commanded lots and lots of customers."
Myers, who now owns the Gary Myers Co., noted that many of Raleigh Springs' customers diminished over the years, drawn to the newer offerings out east. The loss of shoppers has resulted in a loss of occupancy.
"There's some small shops in there, trying to stick it out," Myers said. "They're leaking ever so slowly. They'll get to a point where it may not be worth it to keep it open. But, that hasn't happened yet.
"Over the long haul, I would expect their business maybe to diminish a little bit unless there's some other traffic generator on the property."
As to what traffic generators could salvage the mall, those aren't known at this time. Repeated calls to the Raleigh Springs Mall and to Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group Inc., which manages the mall, were not returned.
An urban experiment
Julio Ares and his father, Taher, launched an apparel store called The Situation in Hickory Ridge Mall in January. The Situation has been operating in a temporary space and on April 5 will move to a 19,000-square-foot space across the hall.
So far, they've been pleased with the mall's traffic.
"It's been good," said Julio Ares, the store's general manager. "We started with the core crowd that this mall has right now, which is urban, mostly."
The Situation also has been targeting what Julio Ares calls the "Wolfchase Galleria crowd," shoppers from Bartlett and Cordova who can't find The Situation's offerings elsewhere. But he also knows that to thrive in Hickory Ridge, the store will need to draw heavily from the neighborhood.
For Jacobs, that's exactly the kind of tenant needed to help Hickory Ridge Mall last another 26 years.
"It's got to be a first-class shopping experience for whoever comes through the door," he said. "As long as we do that, we'll be fine."