The changing retail landscape is forcing mall owners and operators to think outside the box when it comes to filling space.The days of the retail behemoth serving as an anchor property are beginning to wind down, and it can be awfully tough to fill all of that space without chopping it up into smaller pieces. Enter grocery stores, a trend which makes sense on a number of fronts. As Business Insider shares, one of the latest examples of this trend leading to a win-win situation comes courtesy of Wegmans Food Markets, which is moving into a former J.C. Penney at the Natick Mall in Massachusetts with a targeted opening date of 2018.
"Because our business model is predicated on high volume, we need a lot of customers to shop in our stores," said Wegmans spokeswoman Valerie Fox. "While we don't specifically seek out shopping malls, we consider them if they meet the things we're looking for ... Natick Mall met all our criteria for a store site."
While there’s plenty of other examples of this kind of marriage working successfully, June Williamson, an architecture professor at the City College of New York, takes the trend a step further. As Williamson sees it, some malls could actually be retrofitted for food production facilities to slide right in alongside the other retail and food options.
"Construction is one of those not-so-easy-to-outsource fields. That's partly why new house starts, which bring labor and have to happen on the ground, are so important to our economy. Another area is food,” she said. “By moving into malls, agricultural operations could be more integrated into already built communities. And a lot of these suburban areas were agricultural landscapes not that long ago before they were developed. There could be a premium for things grown locally."
That’s some interesting food for thought, and it’ll be fascinating to see which operators take the plunge on that route. In the meantime, we can expect the trend of grocery stores as an anchor to only grow as we move forward.
"Conventional department stores are under threat, partly from online shopping and people wanting to go to the specialty boutique rather than the Macy's,” Williamson added. “People still want to go out, and the food is a real draw for the social part of consumption. So you may buy your socks online, but you might want to go out with your friends to eat or grocery shop at the mall."