Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sparser times at shopping center central

My esteemed colleague Kerry Singe and I ventured forth yesterday to the International Council of Shopping Centers' annual Carolinas IdeaExchange, a daylong get-together for retailers, developers and others in the shopping center business to network and learn. I visited the event for the first time two years ago, and upon arrival was handed a hefty spiral-bound book listing attendees and sessions such as "It Will Be Fine in '09, But What Is My Fate For '08?" This year's conference directory, by contrast, was a much smaller, stapled packet, with fewer sponsors listed - so, in other words, it was yet more evidence of the recession's toll on the retail industry.

Two years ago, a sea of exhibition booths took up an entire, expansive room at the Charlotte Convention Center. Not in 2010: Attendees we spoke to said they saw about half as many exhibitors as in the boom days, and fewer people in attendance, too. A number of the new shopping centers that display boards and brochures promoted two years ago still didn't appear to have progressed very far, if at all, and more signs than before touted opportunities to fill empty big boxes. Still, the room was thick with professionally dressed men and women shaking hands, chatting and exchanging business cards. As we circulated up and down the aisles, we overheard snippets of conversation about weathering the downturn, both rueful and optimistic. DJ Wight, president of Retail Lease Trac, a database company that helps landlords find retailers looking to expand, noted that while attendance might be lower this year, he had actually been doing more deals than in 2009 and 2008; he had the impression that those left in the business are more serious and less likely to be simply dabbling or speculating than those who dove in during the boom.

Another trend: Discount retailers and fast food chains have proven relatively resilient in the recession, and they abounded in the exposition booths, looking for new opportunities. Big Lots, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Burger King, McDonald's, Subway, Sonic and Cato were represented, among others. 

Speaking of shopping centers: If you have one you're wondering about, in terms of vacancies, redevelopment or other issues, let us know and we'll do our best to check in on it. 


Anonymous said...

What's going to happen with Independence Square East (the Best Buy center) on 74 once Best Buy moves to Matthews?

Super G has a sign up about moving into the Bi-Lo spot and Harbor Freight moved into the dollar store. But will the old Best Buy become another casualty on that stretch of Independence?