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VOL. 122 | NO. 60 | Friday, March 30, 2007

Change of Face

Small malls find new life as outdoor retail centers


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BY THE BOOK: Shoppers browse a book display at Borders bookstore at 6685 Poplar Ave. in Carrefour at Kirby Woods. Formerly a small, enclosed mall, Kirby Woods converted to an outdoor shopping center in 1989. -- Photo By Carrena Mccranie

Editor's Note: This is the last in The Daily News' five-part Retail Reinvented series about the past - and future - of the local shopping landscape.

Most shoppers only vaguely remember the days when Carrefour at Kirby Woods, Germantown Village Square and Park Place Mall were enclosed shopping centers. Most of the malls opened in the late 1970s or early 1980s, and all had converted to outdoor malls by 1999.

Although Germantown Village initially was successful, most of the small malls struggled to retain customers.

Kirby Woods simply was too small to compete, said Sherry Thomas, the center's leasing agent at the time. The thought was echoed by Gary Myers, who was leasing agent at Park Place, and Andy Groveman, senior vice president of marketing for Belz, which handles leasing of Germantown Village.

That may be the cause for the unmemorable effect the malls had on customers.

"I used to come to (Kirby Woods) as a kid. I'd walk or ride my bike, but all I remember is the candy store," said Melissa Ridenour, owner of The Little Gym, a children's recreation center in Carrefour.

A Germantown Village shopper who declined to be identified had a similar reaction.

"I used to come here to eat at this crepe place, when it was a mall," she said. But that's all she remembers about it.

The majority of today's shoppers only know about the post-'90s era, during which most of the small interior malls in Memphis converted to open-air shopping centers.

Kirby Woods started the conversion trend in 1989 when it was purchased by Cannon, Austin & Cannon Inc. The mall was suffering and Cannon Austin's idea was to open it up, creating more exposure for the tenants and making it more convenient for customers, said company president Henry Cannon.

Germantown Village in 1992 was next to convert; Park Place made the change in 1997.

Bucking the trend

However, two small malls in Memphis didn't convert to outdoor shopping centers. Chickasaw Oaks Village has remained an enclosed retail center, with tenants such as Pier 1 Imports, La Baguette restaurant and Jimmy Graham Interior Design, among others.

Another center ditched the retail concept altogether. Sycamore Square in 1996 converted to call center spaces for SITEL and Cingular Wireless.

"If (a shopping center) is well-located and well-tenanted, there's no reason (it) shouldn't be around for a long time."
- Danny Buring
Managing partner, The Shopping Center Group

Brookhill Group, the New York-based company that purchased Sycamore Square in the mid-'90s, initially had planned to keep the center as retail space.

"We knew it would be difficult to keep it as a mall, since small malls have such a hard time," said Charles Kramer, president of Brookhill Group.

When Levitz, a 60,000-square-foot furniture store and the mall's only remaining anchor, left in 1996, Brookhill had a hard time finding another tenant.

"Wolfchase Galleria was starting to be built, and most retailers were either going to Wolfchase or the surrounding area," Kramer said.

At that time, Brookhill moved to the backup plan: converting the mall into office space, he said.

The company gutted the building, built a new façade and turned the space into the call centers, which have been occupied by Sitel and Cingular for almost 10 years.

Ebb and flow

So what happened to the small-mall concept?

"It was just the nature of the beast," said Danny Buring, managing partner of The Shopping Center Group. "The industry had evolved to where small, interior malls were obsolete."

He attributes that in part to the rise of strip malls and the development of power centers, in which big-box retailers group together to form one project. An example of a power center is Carriage Crossing MarketPlace across from The Avenue Carriage Crossing. (For details on this center, see The Daily News' Jan. 30 Real Estate Focus at www.memphisdailynews.com.)

In short, small malls just weren't attracting customers - or, more detrimentally, tenants - which is why leasing companies looked outside the boxes to come up with strategies that would turn the malls' profits around.

In their new forms, the malls all seem to be faring well and business is good, said store owners and managers at the centers.

Major tenants at Carrefour are Swanky's Taco Shop, Borders bookstore and JoS. A. Bank Clothiers. T.J. Maxx clothing store, DSW Shoes and Holliday's Fashions attract shoppers to Germantown Village. Park Place's tenants include Sports Authority, Alphagraphics design and copy store and no fewer than five restaurants.

The success of any retail destination is in its location and the tenant make-up, Cannon said.

"I think it's site-specific. It depends on the site and the product you deliver," he said.

Carrefour store owner Richard Holley agreed.

"This is the central location for Memphis. We get people from all over. We depend on good-idea stores and destination traffic," said Holley, who, along with his wife, Carol, owns Happi-Stores, a Carrefour store that sells personalized gifts.

The big draw

That destination traffic might aid the success of Chickasaw Oaks Village, which was built in stages starting in 1969. "We have destination shops; it's our uniqueness," says Leonard Lurie, president of Lurie and Associates, the company that manages Chickasaw Oaks.

But opinions differ on what brings customers to the other malls.

Is it the stores?

"The businesses (at Germantown Village) are what draw people here. We have the only DSW shoe store in Memphis," noted Erika Harris, associate at Party Access, a party-goods store in the center.

Or is it the layout?

"I think this setup is getting more popular," said Holley, who's been at Carrefour since it changed formats in 1990. "More women are working and don't have the time to walk aimlessly through the mall. Also, I think the lady shopper feels more comfortable here."

Janie, a resident of Arkansas who comes to Memphis regularly to visit her daughter, said she prefers the open-air setup. "I like the exercise and the fresh air you get. Younger people probably like malls better," she added.

Tiffany Kee, director at The Little Gym, said she shops at outdoor malls to avoid the crowds. "It's easier to get from place to place."

What about 10 years from now? Will these converted malls still be viable then?

"If (a shopping center) is well-located and well-tenanted, there's no reason (it) shouldn't be around for a long time," Buring said.

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