Silver Linings


I am an eternal optimist. I believe the good guy will win in the end, that what goes around comes around, and if it’s meant to be it will happen. I avoid confrontation of all kinds and I tend to look for the good in all people.

So, perhaps you can understand how I have struggled with the bad news of late. I don’t like to hear that Steve & Barry’s declared bankruptcy. Or that Linens ’n Things is closing stores. And now Mervyns, then Boscov’s, have filed for bankruptcy protection, too.

Ever seeking a silver lining, I talked to Jeff Gunning, a VP at Baltimore-based architectural and design firm RTKL Associates. Jeff specializes in retail and entertainment, and in cheering me up. “While it is never a good thing when retailers go bankrupt,” he told me, “the recent spate of big-box retailer bankruptcies has created new opportunities for lesser-known retail concepts. Since a majority of the retailers filing for Chapter 11 are big-box anchor stores, mall owners are left with an especially large format of space, which, with a little bit of creativity, can be used in a way that can actually draw more traffic than the traditional anchor model.”

I was starting to feel better. Especially as Gunning described some of the options landlords and designers are using to makeover the dark spaces. “One of the more popular options is the stacking method,” he said. “In this case, the big, three-level stores are replaced with three separate, but similar, stores—one on each level.” One example, he said, might combine a Best Buy on the first floor, Office Depot on the second and Barnes & Noble on the third floor. “While they are distinctly different stores, their products relate to one another which will naturally attract a good number of shoppers—especially one-stop shoppers—to that section of the mall,” Gunning added.

This was really starting to sound exciting (are you sensing my optimism?). Then Gunning told me about North Park in Dallas and how it recently filled empty space in the middle of the mall with a public library. I realize a library wouldn’t generate revenue as a major anchor store would, but imagine the gathering possibilities! “The library drives foot traffic,” said Gunning, “and this option makes sense for North Park because its target demographic is mothers and children. With the public library there, mothers can leave their kids to read under supervision while they shop.”

So, Mom gets the satisfaction of knowing her children are being enriched while she enjoys some time alone to shop. Could it get any better?

Gunning shared an RTKL example with me, describing how when Tysons Corner Center in McLean, Va., lost its J.C. Penney anchor, the project team converted the former three-level space into a mall concourse—with additional retail footage and a food court on the third floor. New big-box space was built at the end of the new concourse—also three levels, with a movie theatre connecting to the food court, accompanied by restaurants and a Barnes & Noble on the first and second floors.

Who wins here? J.C. Penney trims an unprofitable store, the mall fills the space with vibrant uses that capitalize on the large vacancy, and the shoppers get a new and exciting destination. Everyone wins, just as I knew they would.

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