Southridge Mall needs another refresh

Commentary

Southridge Mall

Five years ago, Southridge Mall in Greendale was on a roll.

Its owner, Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group L.P., did a dramatic makeover of the mall in 2012. The project included redesigned entrances, updated outdoor signage and landscaping, a transformation of the food court, new seating, redesigned railings with contemporary glasswork, new carpet and flooring, and redesigned common areas. Every surface of the mall, built in 1970, was improved with cosmetic upgrades.

But the biggest improvement was the addition of a Macy’s department store at the south end of the mall, in the former Younkers space. The Younkers store closed in 2000 and the space had only been partially occupied at times, with stores like Linens ’n Things and Steve & Barry’s that came and went. The addition of Macy’s, combined with the makeover of the mall, was a huge deal for Southridge.

Today, the retail industry is going through a transformation, largely driven by the impact of Amazon.com, and Southridge is facing a huge challenge. The mall is going to lose two of its anchors. Sears recently announced it will close its store at the mall and earlier this year, Kohl’s announced it will close its Southridge store and move it to the 84South development along I-894 in Greenfield.

That will leave two big vacancies at Southridge. Its remaining anchors are Macy’s, JCPenney and Boston Store. Macy’s and JCPenney remain profitable, but are both closing more than 100 stores this year. The Bon-Ton Stores Inc., the parent company of Boston Store, has not turned an annual profit since 2010. S&P Global Market Intelligence recently named Bon-Ton one of 10 retail companies most at risk to file for bankruptcy. How long will its store at Southridge remain open?

Meanwhile, new retail developments like 84South in Greenfield and Drexel Town Square in Oak Creek are offering new competition to Southridge. Those projects offer a mix of retail, residential and restaurants to attract shoppers. It’s a different approach than a traditional enclosed mall like Southridge.

To fill its soon-to-be empty anchor store spaces and compete with newer developments, Simon will have to reinvent Southridge, even more dramatically than five years ago. Like many other malls facing similar challenges, Southridge needs to become an entertainment destination, not just a place to go shop.

A good first step is the recent opening of Marcus Theatres’ new eight-screen BistroPlex movie theater, just outside of Southridge. BistroPlex is a new concept for Marcus. It is heavy on food and beverage offerings. The place has the feel of a restaurant with movies on the side. That Marcus is trying a concept like this shows that it, too, needs to innovate. With movies on demand and huge flat screen TVs common in many American homes, movie theaters, just like shopping malls, need to find new ways to attract consumers.

Concepts Simon should try at Southridge include: a hotel, a bowling alley, a fitness center, maybe even an ice skating rink. More restaurants like Buca di Beppo, which opened at the mall in 2014, and the Explorium Brewpub that opened there early this year, would also be good.

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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