Retail is Alive and Well in the Hudson Valley
Mary Prenon | April 2019
It’s 10:00 pm on a rainy Tuesday night, but you feel like shopping. So, you just pop open your laptop and start ordering everything from new home décor to sporting goods, and maybe even some jumper cables for the car. And all around the globe, millions of other people are doing the same thing.
Is this the future of retail shopping, and will it mean the demise of brick and mortar stores? Given all of the recent headlines, one might think so.
At the top of the fallen retailers is Sears, a 125-year-old business that was once the largest retailer in the U.S. Other well-known businesses that will be closing all or some stores or have filed for bankruptcy include David’s Bridal, Rockport, Nine West, Payless, Abercrombie & Fitch, The Children’s Place, Foot Locker, Gap and Macy’s.
Despite the negative rap retail has taken lately, local and even national experts say retail is here to stay. “Anyone who’s ready to write the obituary for retail is wrong,” said Paul Adler, chief strategy officer with Rand Commercial in New City. “Retail is not going anywhere, but it may be coming in different forms. It’s all about understanding who the customer is today.”
Mark Matthews, vice president of research for the National Retail Federation in Washington, D.C. agreed, and reported retail sales actually grew 4% last year. “There seems to be a fixation on the retail apocalypse,” he said. “Yes, there are certain companies that are struggling, but the fact is that retail contributes $2.6 trillion to the U.S. annual GDP. No other industry comes close.”
While Matthews admitted the retail landscape is changing dramatically, he said it’s important to separate the myth from reality. “Sears actually changed the retail industry 100 years ago, but now the change is happening to them and it can be harder to turn a big ship around,” he explained. “Retail companies now have to figure out how to cater not just to their core clientele, but to younger people and the way that they shop.”
In the case of Payless, Adler believes they could have survived if they had evolved to meet customers’ needs. “There’s going to be a shakeout with stores like Payless that haven’t changed their look in 25 years,” he said. “It was a good model at the time, but shoppers’ needs are constantly changing and the stores apparently weren’t meeting peoples’ expectations.”
Discount stores are still thriving, he said, and cited DSW as a good example of a retailer that is in tune with its customers. “It’s not just a shoe store—you can go there for bags, wallets, and even jewelry,” he added “It’s all about making sure that the shopper has a pleasant and easy experience.”
Typically, vacancies at local strip malls with shops like a dry cleaner, bank, pizzeria or deli tend to fill up quickly, explained Adler, while regional shopping centers with larger commercial vacancies may take a bit longer to fill. Just recently, though, he was able to lease space to Dental 365 at the Town Plaza in New City, after convincing the landlord to think outside of the traditional retail tenant. “Now the shopping center has a lot more traffic during the day,” he added.
Kim Galton, director of retail at Houlihan Lawrence Commercial Group, agreed that the face of retail is changing and evolving. “There are new retail trends already underway in Manhattan, and we’re confident they’ll be moving up to the suburbs,” she said. In fact, some of them are already here. Row House, a new fitness club featuring rowing, has set up shop in Westport, CT. Bluemercury, owned by Macy’s, is joining the successful ranks of cosmetic shops like Ulta Beauty and Sephora with strong footholds throughout the Hudson Valley.
“We’re starting to see a lot of new types of retail businesses like pet wellness centers, health food stores and green grocers,” added Galton. The successful online retailer Rent the Runway has also opened stores in Manhattan, and Galton predicts we’ll be seeing them locally as well.
“Today more than ever, good customer service is really a deciding factor in a retailer’s success,” she explained. “We’re seeing hair salons now offering their clients a glass of wine or makeup lessons to create more of an experience, instead of just a haircut.”
Galton noted that independent clothing retailers like March in Briarcliff Manor and Tiger Lily in Mount Kisco are prospering, despite store closures by some of the nation’s largest retailers. “They are successfully targeting their upscale customers and have a very loyal following because of their product lines, and their customer service,” she said.
Meanwhile, some big box retailers like Lowe’s are continuing to expand, with its latest New York store in Yorktown. The 124,000-square-foot store also includes a 25,448-square-foot garden center, and the development site has enough room for three additional businesses— possibly restaurants and a bank.
The new neighborhood retail center was developed by Breslin Realty in Garden City, which has also acted as designated developer for other big box retailers like Walmart and Stop & Shop.
This follows the recent opening of Cortlandt Crossing in Cortlandt Manor, a 130,000-square-foot retail center developed by Acadia Realty Trust of Rye. Shoprite and Homesense anchor the center, which also offers space for smaller retailers.
However, it’s the super-regional centers like malls that are facing the greatest challenges today. “Because there is so much competition from online companies like Amazon, malls have to offer people more of an experience, rather than just stores,” Adler revealed. Many now offer different types of restaurants, comedy clubs, fitness centers or special events.
Adler used the examples of the Cross County Shopping Center in Yonkers and the Shops at Nanuet as malls that are offering a “Main Street” atmosphere through the use of open, outdoor access for a more “experiential” form of shopping.
Yorktown’s Jefferson Valley Mall, built in 1983, has already begun its “mall Renaissance” with the addition of fitness clubs, new restaurants, and a myriad of community events. Previously owned by the Simon Property Group, the mall was purchased by Washington Prime Group about two years ago and many changes have already taken place.
“We’re putting a huge emphasis on creating a sense of community here,” explained Alexa O’Rourke, the mall’s general manager. “We have a strong retail tenant base, but we’re integrating events, services, and even pop-up boutiques to create a synergy among our retailers and a new experience for the local community.”
Mall Marketing Director Heather Novak said they’re already working on the Easter Bunny Breakfast, a Relay for Life on Mother’s Day, and Thursday night Farmer’s Markets during the summer that will include produce, food trucks, live music and even hot dog eating contests.
During the week, you can find events like Wellness Wednesdays offering various health-related programs, yoga classes, the Book Nook and Kids Corner, Mommy and Me classes, a Pet Photo Night, and Zumbathon.
“We also have drumming circles and entertainment with African drummers” added Novak. In the fall, they plan to repeat last October’s successful “Boo ‘N Brew” that drew some 3,000 people to the mall’s parking area. “We partnered with the Peekskill Brewery for beer tastings, plus a live band, food and an outdoor movie.”
O’Rourke said it’s all about “breaking out of the mold.” The mall has recently added an Orangetheory Fitness Center and in May, a Footbik children’s soccer training facility will be opening. The bottom floor of Sears will be converted to a 24-Hour Fitness Center. “We are actively looking for a replacement for Payless and are working with the Sears building owner to find a new tenant for their top floor,” she said. “Overall, we’ve had a huge positive reaction from the community about what we’re doing here.”
According to Matthews, everyone in the retail sector is starting to experiment. “Compared to other countries, the U.S. is ‘over-stored’ on a per capita basis,” he said. “So, there’s a lot of different ways that retailers can re-invent themselves.”
Target, he said, is starting to open smaller stores to reach urban customers and Nike is now offering “design your own shoe” services. “It’s not just about selling anymore—it’s about experiencing the brand and the products,” said Matthews.
In some cases, purely online stores are actually setting up physical locations, such as Blue Nile jewelry and Warby Parker, offering eye glasses. “In fact, nine out of 10 of the largest online retailers also have their own stores—Amazon, Walmart, and the Home Shopping Network, just to name a few,” he noted.
“While online ordering has hurt some Hudson Valley retailers, people still have to try on clothes or get a real look and feel for other consumer products,” said Adler. He suggests local retailers invite customers into their stores, offer some type of added value, and provide ordering and next-day delivery services if a particular product isn’t available in the store.
“It’s like making a choice to go to the ER or Urgent Care,” he added. “You can sit and wait for hours, or you can be seen in a just a few minutes—and spend a lot less money. It’s all about staying current.”