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ToquiNotes: Mall's Next Business May be Determined Soon as Official Believes rue21 Space Filled Shortly

By Jeff Toquinto on May 18, 2024 from ToquiNotes via Connect-Bridgeport.com

When it comes to businesses leaving Meadowbrook Mall since the arrival of Boscov’s, it has been pretty much an empty slate. When it comes to new businesses arriving since the retail giant’s opening in October of 2023, it has been a different story.
 
That changed recently as rue21 announced it will be leaving Meadowbrook Mall in the weeks ahead. The store is leaving after being open for more than three decades.
 
In 1993, rue21 opened. The fact that it is leaving is not a good thing.
 
Yet, it is beyond the control of Meadowbrook Mall. Every rue21 across the nation is closing as the company has declared for bankruptcy and announced it is shuttering every one of its locations.
 
What that does is increase the vacant spaces in the mall to four, not counting the food court. The vacant spaces include Garfield’s (not in the food court), Block & Barrell (located beside Garfield’s), and the space formerly home to the Elder-Beerman Home Store. There is space in the food court in the former Subway site and there is some closed off space that was part of the original Elder-Beerman store.
 
Other than that, the mall is full. Prior to Boscov’s, many businesses were leaving – some due to poor business, some due to the mall having them leave due to Boscov’s needs, and some due to national closings. The mall was never in the shape of the Charleston Towne Centre Mall, but being without two anchors in JCPenney and Sears for years was a problem.
 
Now, vacancies are a rarity. The good news about the rue21 closure?
 
“We do not anticipate it being vacant for a long period of time,” said Joe Bell, corporate communications director for the Cafaro Company that owns the mall and various other properties nationwide, said. “Is there anything specific? Nothing I’m aware of, but I know our people are on it and Meadowbrook Mall would be a very desirable location for a business right now.”
 
What does end up in the rue21 site and the other vacant spaces could be determined starting Sunday and running through Tuesday. It is on those days, May 19-21, the annual International Conference of Shopping Centers event will take place in Las Vegas.

Bell will not be there. Leasing officials from Cafaro will be.
 
“It’s usually attended by all the major shopping center developers, retailers and sometime development groups on the political and economic front will attend. They talk about different possibilities that sometimes deals are made,” said Bell. “This is a good place for people in our business to advance whatever discussions they may have that will benefit the retailer as well as the property owner.”
 
Understand, Cafaro officials are not going there solely with the idea of working on Meadowbrook Mall. Cafaro is responsible for 30 million square feet of retail space nationwide, and they have ownership of up to 60 shopping centers.
 
“I’m sure Meadowbrook Mall will be discussed because it’s been a good period of time there. The results are good,” said Bell.
 
Bell was fairly confident in filling rue21, as well as other spaces. However, he knows getting the food court back to capacity or finding a sit-down restaurant replacement for Garfield’s is going to be much harder.
 
“The food industry, essentially most service and hospitality businesses, is an extremely tough business to be in and the competition is extremely high,” said Bell. “Those businesses often have a high turnover rate, and you have to look long and hard and what may be available and make sure it’s the right type of restaurant and food if it is available. This is an issue not just for us, but a majority of those in our industry.”
 
Another area of interest is the former Elder-Beerman Home Store. That is, by far, the largest space available. Up until recently, the space was being utilized by Boscov’s for storage, job interviews, training, and other store-opening needs.
 
“There is nothing specific I’m aware of with that space. I’d be lying if I told you I knew what is being looked at or coming to that space,” said Bell.
 
Even with that, Bell’s optimism could be heard during my recent phone interview with him. And for good reason. Boscov’s has not only added new life to a mall well past the industry standard for life expectancy in its fourth decade, but he said it has helped other retailers as well.
 
“Just thinking back to late last year, by the time we hit the holiday season, we were getting positive reports with the way everything got configured with this large department store in the mix and how there was improved foot traffic in the mall,” said Bell. “It’s been really good to see things going so well.”
 
Good enough that Bell is confident rue21 will be filled sooner rather than later. And others will follow.
 
“Some stores will rise, have their heyday and survive until they know longer become relevant in the buyers’ eyes,” said Bell. “That may have been the case with rue21, but there are always more businesses being imagined every year and retail entrepreneurs coming forwards with new concepts. When they’re ready, we may have a space or two for them.”


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