VOL. 130 | NO. 8 | Tuesday, January 13, 2015
City Officials Ponder Macy’s Whitehaven Exit
By Amos Maki
Memphis officials say they were blindsided by the announcement from Macy’s that it was closing its store at Southland Mall in Whitehaven and hope they can prevent more retailers from closing inner city locations.
City Council member Harold Collins, citing the strong amount of investment planned or underway in Whitehaven, said the retailer’s surprise announcement last week that it was closing the Southland Mall store stings the predominantly black Whitehaven community.
The store at East Shelby Drive and Elvis Presley Boulevard, which opened as Goldsmith’s in 1966 and was rebranded to Macy’s in 2005, has long served as an anchor in the city’s oldest mall.
“It’s frustrating when we have a company like Macy’s with a good reputation that wants to move out of one of Memphis’ most stable, middle-class African-American communities with a large disposable income,” said Collins, who represents the area.
“If they could have given us notice and told us what they needed to maintain their operation, I know they would have had one advocate for them. That’s me,” said Collins. “When you spring it on the community like that, without discussing it with us, without sharing your concerns, it’s frustrating – knowing that more is coming.”
Collins was alluding to the investment flowing into the area, from $5 million Kroger invested in its nearby store to the $140 million Graceland redevelopment project and $43 million in streetscape improvements to Elvis Presley Boulevard.
Macy’s, which is closing 14 stores nationwide, cited shifting shopping habits and lower-than-expected store performance for its closure in Southland Mall.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. has asked Reid Dulberger, president of the city-county Economic Development Growth Engine, to reach out to Macy’s. Wharton seemed to acknowledge that corporate decisions like the store closure can be hard to reverse but that he wanted to learn more about the process in the hope of preventing further retail flight.
“If we can’t do anything, let’s see what we can learn to make sure this doesn’t happen in other locations,” said Wharton.
It remains to be seen what impact the Macy’s closure will have on Southland Mall, which opened in 1966 as the city’s first enclosed mall.
By all accounts, Southland Mall appears healthy. A sizeable crowd milled about the mall early Friday afternoon, and a Sears store still anchors the other end of the structure. The mall currently boasts over 60 tenants as it approaches its 50-year anniversary, including many smaller retailers that cater to the Whitehaven community.
Macy’s signaled that it plans to sell its 150,000-square-foot location at Southland Mall, which could allow mall owners to recruit multiple tenants to the space.
“(Macy’s leaving) is not good, but it’s not the end of the world,” said Danny Buring of The Shopping Center Group LLC. “There are opportunities for mall owners to get creative, to step up their game.”