Waiting for the next big thing

Desperate economic times produce hardship, but they also give rein to creative and innovative thinkers. The Great Depression of the 1930s produced a host of ideas that formed the foundations of today’s retail and retail shopping center industries.

In 1929, for instance, a group of department stores joined forces and formed Federated Department Stores, with headquarters in Columbus, Ohio.

The following year, Edwards Theatres Circuit opened the first multiplex in the United States.

Publix Super Markets was also founded in 1930.

In 1932, Joseph C. Thompson became president of the bankrupt Southland Ice Co. and reorganized as a retail business selling foods and conveniences. Today, the Southland Corp. operates the franchising business that has spread 7-Eleven stores around the world.

“Now’s the time to look for ideas that will catch on,” Spence Mehl, senior VP of New York City-based RCS Real Estate Advisors, told SiteTalk. “Rents get cheaper as landlords need to fill vacant space and drive traffic. Low rents will attract people with ideas and very little money.”

While waiting for the next big thing, landlords are filling space with retail or non-retail businesses. A business that can pay the rent can have the space. So dance studios, karate studios, skating rinks, health clubs and glow-in-the-dark miniature golf courses are moving into malls and shopping centers.

“Empty freestanding big boxes are attracting churches,” observed Mehl. “I have a trade school looking at a 70,000-sq.-ft. space in Indianapolis right now. And discount stores such as Big Lots, Dollar Tree and Dollar General are moving into large empty spaces.”

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