As struggling big-box department stores like Boston Store, Sears and JCPenney gradually disappear from area shopping centers, property owners and managers are left with the challenge of deciding what do with thousands of square feet of vacant space.
For Chattanooga, Tennessee-based CBL Properties, which owns Brookfield Square in Brookfield, that meant razing the former Sears store at the southeast side of the mall to make way for what today’s experiential-driven retail market considers to be bigger and better things: dining and entertainment.
This fall, construction will be complete on the two centerpieces of Brookfield Square’s multimillion-dollar redevelopment – Chicago-based restaurant and entertainment center WhirlyBall and Marcus Theatres’ newly acquired cinema eatery concept, Movie Tavern.
The Marcus Corp. had originally planned to fill the 40,000-square-foot building with its second BistroPlex location, but in early April, the company announced it had changed course in an effort to introduce its own version of the Movie Tavern brand to the market, which already is home to multiple Marcus cinemas including its first-ever BistroPlex at Southridge Mall.
“This is our hometown and in our hometown, we want our customers to see everything we have to offer,” said Rolando Rodriguez, Marcus Theatres’ president and chief executive officer.
While other Marcus concepts, such as the nearby Majestic Cinema, are destinations for families, Movie Tavern by Marcus will target millennial adult consumers with its food and beverage offerings and “technological elements,” Rodriguez said.
WhirlyBall and Movie Tavern by Marcus will be situated near other restaurant concepts, including Texas-based Uncle Julio’s Mexican from Scratch, which opened in December as the company’s first Wisconsin location; Texas-based Bar Louie, which opened in late February in the former Blackfinn Ameripub space; and Florida-based Outback Steakhouse, which is expected to break ground in the coming months, projecting to open in fall.
The project is part of CBL’s greater vision of transforming traditional enclosed malls into suburban town centers that offer more than just retail, but the recent and yet-to-be-announced additions to Brookfield Square’s tenant list directly reflect the specific demands of the surrounding market, said Stacey Keating, director of public relations and corporate communications for CBL Properties.
“When malls were first built, it was a relatively cookie cutter approach – three to five fashion anchor stores and a primarily retail mix in the middle – and that’s really changing a lot,” Keating said. “Part of it is the demand in the market, part of it is the transition in the retail industry itself and the other part is what consumers are looking to gain from coming to a mall, and it’s kind of redefining what that traditional mall experience looks like.”
Also in December, Willowbrook, Illinois-based high-end golf club retailer Club Champion opened a 3,000-square-foot store on the former Sears site. It’s the first Wisconsin location for the company, which offers custom fittings to build more than 35,000 club, shaft and grip combinations.
Club Champion’s high-touch, personalized services place the business in a category of brick-and-mortar retailers that are able to draw customers, largely because of the experience they provide, Keating said.
Fast-growing, experience-driven retailers like Club Champion are in demand among mall developers looking for more foot traffic, she said.
“We’ve found that retailers that offer their customers an unparalleled experience are going to succeed far more than those that don’t,” Keating said.
That trend includes online-only retailers that are starting to open brick-and-mortar locations. She said CBL is in talks with several such companies, with plans to broker retail space for them as they expand into CBL’s market areas.
But attracting these newer, trendier retail concepts requires mall owners to be more flexible than they had to be in the past, Keating said.
“These newer concepts don’t necessarily want to sign a 10-year lease,” she said.
In today’s retail market, typical lease deals usually range from one to five years, depending on the retailer, Keating said.
At some of its other properties, CBL has rolled out a pop-up shop concept, which takes over an available tenant space for only one week at a time, she said, making for a low-cost and low-barrier-to-entry method to test out a new product or expand a business. And it keeps tenant offerings fresh and exciting for customers.
Although Brookfield Square has not yet housed a traditional pop-up shop, its management is open to the idea, said Melissa Cavanagh, marketing director at Brookfield Square.
Plus, Cavanagh said, the mall already offers temporary retail opportunities with carts and kiosks. Those are operated by both national tenants, such as Sunglass Hut and Starbucks, and local tenants, such as Grassroots Salad Co. and Divino Gelato Café.
“Carts and kiosks really open up the opportunity to start a business or have a small local business,” she said. “It adds to that experience that shoppers have because it gives them so many choices for shopping.”