Polaris Fashion Place turns 10

Michael Glimcher discusses the Columbus, Ohio-located mall’s decade of success

Michael Glimcher, president and CEO, Columbus, Ohio-based Glimcher Realty Trust. “Our philosophy is to have what people want versus trying to sell people something that you have.”

Central Ohio’s largest mall opened 10 years ago, and has continued to improve and evolve over a sometimes tumultuous decade, thanks to a hands-on management approach by its owner Glimcher Realty Trust, based in Columbus, Ohio.  Chain Store Age talked with Michael Glimcher, president and CEO of Glimcher Realty Trust, about Polaris Fashion Place and how it has stood the test of time.

In its 10-year history, how has Polaris Fashion Place changed/evolved over the decade, especially during the more recent recessionary climate?
Ten years ago, Polaris Fashion Place opened its doors to provide premier fashion and high-quality products to shoppers in Central Ohio. Thirty percent of the stores within the mall environment were new to the market. The mall also created thousands of new jobs and business opportunities. 

We have done many things over the years that continue to make Polaris Fashion Place a great shopping destination. In 2008, we added a $45 million outdoor lifestyle center anchored by Barnes & Noble, Destination Maternity, and an expanded Forever XXI. The lifestyle area features dining and entertainment at Benihana and Dave & Buster’s with patio dining available at The Pub, Cantina Laredo, and The Cheesecake Factory.

Discuss some of the pivotal points in the mall’s history, such as the transition from your father Herb’s direction to yours, as well as how tenants such as Apple have impacted the center’s performance.
Ten years ago, when the company undertook Polaris Fashion Place, my dad’s vision was to have a premier fashion mall in central Ohio, offering the high quality and upscale stores and restaurants he’d been delivering across the country. It was an important milestone for him and for the company. In 2001, the company was transitioning from the community center business to a focus on regional mall management and development. Polaris Fashion Place afforded us the opportunity to showcase our talents as a developer to our peers and to the community by delivering a high-quality, two-level fashion mall. The mall signified the type of properties Glimcher would like to build or acquire going forward. 

The 2008 addition of an open-air lifestyle component to Polaris Fashion Place brought in Cheesecake Factory as part of its dining lineup.

At the time, Polaris Fashion Place was the only mall to open with seven anchor stores. The idea of having seven department stores at the opening was unique to Polaris Fashion Place, as was the breadth of merchandise, from Saks to Sears and everything in between. We talked about the idea that you could enter the mall through a lot of different doors and a lot of different vantage points, allowing shoppers to make the mall their own. There really was something for everyone.

As retailing evolved, we began to see more hybrid projects popping up, combining the enclosed mall with an outdoor area. While many retailers want to be in an enclosed environment, some wanted to be in an outdoor environment, specifically restaurants. In 2008, Federated’s buyout of Kauffman’s allowed us to redevelop the department store space into an outdoor area, offering the option to our retailers.

Our philosophy is to have what people want versus trying to sell people something that you have, and by building an outdoor space we created a new experience desired by our customers. We also generated an opportunity to bring Cheesecake Factory, Benihana, Cantina Laredo and Barnes & Noble to the property.

Today, Glimcher continues to add impactful retailers, such as the Apple Store. It’s an example of an unconventional mall store that’s become highly sought after because other retailers want to be under the same roof. An Apple store alone can increase a mall’s total sales substantially; in fact, the addition of Apple at Polaris resulted in sales increasing in excess of 10%.

What about Polaris has served to attract new-to-market tenants?
Polaris Fashion Place was designed to be and remains an upscale fashion mall featuring new-to-market retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue. Retailers often want to be in the same mall as these desirable stores, which generally have only one or two locations in a metro area. Not only do these stores draw retailers, but they also typically have loyal shoppers.

The addition of the Lifestyle Center allowed for the best of both shopping experiences -- enclosed shopping along with an outdoor shopping, dining and entertainment experience. We had already given people a reason to shop, and now we were able to offer a reason for people to visit the mall for other reasons.

Reinvention usually takes place around a mall’s 10-year anniversary, as it’s a time when leases come up for renewal. That’s the case for Polaris Fashion Place. This has enabled us to open new stores, including MAC Cosmetics and Bubbles Beauty. Victoria’s Secret VSX Sexy Sport and a Fossil store are expected to open by the holiday season.

What do you envision as the future of Polaris and how will you keep the mall relevant?
Going forward, we’re only going to get better. Polaris Fashion Place won’t look like it does today 10 years from now. The physical plant will evolve; the merchandise mix will evolve. 

Today we’re focusing on restaurants and service uses, things that you want to get out of  your house to do. Retail is a living, breathing environment.  It always looks different than it did the year before, and we’re committed to continuing to upgrade the mix.

At the 10-year anniversary, we see a lot of opportunity. We have a good mix of space turning over, which is a good thing. We can take this opportunity to upgrade and freshen up the mix and consequently increase sales.

We look at the mall as a canvas; it’s a beautiful background, but the retailers are the star of the show. By changing the mall mix, upgrading the retail and freshening the experience, we are keeping Polaris Fashion Place relevant to shoppers.

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