Thursday, July 30, 2009

Epicenter Dreams: The Dream Ends...?

Christiana Mall was its name, and despite being in the Philadelphia Metro area, it was actually in Delaware. It was also considerably older than Polaris Fashion Place, as Christiana opened in 1978. The anchor store Epicenter planned to take was a bit younger, but not by much...a vacant Lord & Taylor that opened in 1990 as a John Wanamaker. The old Strawbridge's at the mall had been bought by Nordstrom. And so it was now Epicenter Collection decided to actually start on its the BUYpod was renamed the SpreeGo, and an actual opening was revealed...summer 2008. Still, things looked rosy at this point. The 181,000 square foot store would be packed with 60 retailers, and discussions were with 100. "They're all the names you'd expect from the catalog world, the e-commerce world, and the world of brands." Awesome. If this list was anywhere near accurate, they'd probably pick something like ThinkGeek, which is possibly one of the coolest online-only stores ever. The world of brands, eh? Apple and Disney have stores, but what about other brands? The only Nintendo retail store I can think of is Nintendo World Store in New York City. And, well, in terms of other well-known brands, there's lots more where that came from.

Unfortunately, no news came. No updates came on the official Epicenter website but it was assumed Epicenter was gutting Lord & Taylor down except for the HVAC and other things (like restrooms). Summer turned to winter. Winter turned to spring. Summer 2008 passed with no news.

Then it surfaced in November that Target had bought Lord & Taylor's vacant space and was planning to open it another some years anyway. There was no more need to wait, and Epicenter Collection wouldn't resurface again. The website it had went down soon after.

I can honestly say I was disappointed. The fact that an "Internet-enabled" retailer could open...personally I was hoping for a variety of things all available (or would be delivered to my house): Omaha Steaks, Nintendo, ThinkGeek, and so on. But in all practicality, their business model was pretty solid, but was it profitable? By this time, catalog merchants had all but vanished. No one uses little notepads or tablets anymore (except for IKEA, but they can escape the odds somehow) and the SpreeGo would get awfully expensive...expensive for consumers (possibly persuading them not to shop) or expensive for the company (especially if they were stolen), or both. And furthermore, places like the late Service Merchandise and IKEA, you couldn't get it at the store unless it was a "hot-ticket item". So really, why bother ordering it through the Epicenter Collection when you could order it while sipping a mocha at the Starbucks in the food court?

Furthermore, the later concept picture of Epicenter Collection at Christiana Mall seemed showed a pretty open space...except most stores, even department stores, do not have high ceilings like that (except in the escalator area). This would become even more obvious in the planned Sears/Kmart merger. It would've been nice also to instead of having the Epicenter as an extension of the mall common (sort of Seoul Plaza in Security Square Mall) being like a department store, with fairly open areas and less walls. But even they didn't expand by leaps and bounds opening dozens by the year, they could've at least tried it. Then they could've expanded in other large, burgeoning markets: Chicago has vacant space, and Houston also has a few vacant Mervyn's. Northern Jersey also had space (it would've gone well in the old Boscov's space at Monmouth Mall except by that time, Epicenter was stillborn.


A few months later, Sears Holdings Corporation decided to close a Kmart in Illinois: not to worry, it happens all the time. But it was undergoing a transformation into myGofer, which swapped the traditional 80% sales, 20% storage on its head to 20% sales, 80% storage. You could order anything of a large inventory despite only a few products displayed at front...which sounds suspiciously like Epicenter Collection. Except for the fact that myGofer stocks almost exclusively Sears and Kmart items, no products are "touchable", and you can drive through to pick up items. While this would work pretty well for urban areas, it is a sore disappointment compared to what Epicenter Collection could've been. No exclusive brands never seen on brick-and-mortar format. But myGofer is new. Maybe it will clean up its act. Or maybe it will crash-and-burn and close in six months. Or maybe another company will take the reigns in a real "Internet catalog showroom".

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Epicenter Dreams: A Lucky Winner

(continued from Page One)

Many of these locations were snapped up by retailers who had little presence in the area. JCPenney snatched up a vacant Filene's while Boscov's grabbed a variety of local Pennsylvania malls. Nordstrom promised to build a store at Cherry Hill Mall replacing Strawbridge & Clothier. Still others would remain vacant until they were razed for lifestyle additions, which unfortunately didn't seem to really "match" with the mall.

Prior to the main buyout, a relatively new mall, Polaris Fashion Place had both Lazarus and Kaufmann's. It also had Lord & Taylor but was lucky enough to get it replaced with Von Maur. It would have had seven anchors: Lazarus-Macy's, Kaufmann's, Von Maur, Sears, JCPenney, Saks Fifth Avenue, and The Great Indoors (an interiors-oriented concept owned by Sears). Except Kaufmann's was closing.

So an innovative idea from the minds behind the Forum Shops at Caesars (Gordon Groups Holding) proposed a lofty idea: the EPICENTER COLLECTION, designed to be an "Internet catalog showroom". The space would be sub-leased to Internet retailers that could display items including sporting goods, fashion, cosmetics, electronics, and gourmet foods. Very similar to a department store, in fact. Consumers would receive a BUYpod (hmm...that sounds like something else) and register their credit card number. Then it would be a simple job of scanning items to be delivered. Some were even on-site. Columbus shoppers would get to try this innovative process before Epicenter Collection rolled it out nationally. Epicenter predicted various vacancies from the Federated/May merger and the Sears/Kmart merger, leaving positions nationwide to expand.

Epicenter pursued companies that had a good web base but little to no bricks-and-mortar presence: Omaha Steaks, Kiehl's, Bose, Levenger, American Girl, Home Shopping Network, Babystyle and L.L. Bean.

What a plan! But the deal fell through and Kaufmann's would become a lifestyle center instead. Too bad: it now wasn't possible to find slacks at Macy's and pick up a New York strip steak in the same building. At least in Columbus it wasn't. The story wasn't over, however...for Epicenter Collection would bring their dog-and-pony show to the Philadelphia area next.

Part III: The Dream Ends

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Epicenter Dreams: The End of an Era, Beginning of a New?

I remember like it was yesterday: Federated Stores was to buy May Company, leading to a huge collection of department stores. Macy's and Lord & Taylor? Why, both of those stores were at the Galleria. But I didn't know the consequences...for nearly every department store I knew was disappearing. Mervyn's was never in my city, and Montgomery Ward had pulled out in 1997, the mall it was in (Manor East) was being knocked out in favor of a strip center anchored by a shiny new H-E-B. Soon I became aware that Florida-based Burdines had become "Burdines-Macy's", ending my vision of Macy's being a nice, upscale store. With the large department stores it absorbed, it soon became obvious there would be a glut of Macy's in America. No store was unscathed. Lord & Taylor was saved, but it pulled out of the Texas market. Foley's of Houston, Famous-Barr of St. Louis, Marshall Field's of Chicago, Kaufmann's of was all too much. There was overlap. Foley's and Macy's both had store space in The Galleria. Many malls in Arizona and California had both Macy's (often converted from a The Broadway, Emporium-Capwell, or Bullock's). Malls in New England had both Filene's and Macy's (always from a Jordan Marsh). And malls in the Pennsylvania-Ohio area had both Lazarus (which became Macy's in 2005) and Kaufmann's. And Philadelphia had a few that had both Strawbridge & Clothier and Macy's (often Bamberger's). What do with all that? Malls like The Galleria in Houston got to keep both open as full-line stores, but that was a rarity and few malls did so. Others closed a store...either closing the original Macy's or the second nameplate that would be converted.

Sadly, in most cases, this would leave a lot of vacant space open, and the sale of Lord & Taylor left lots of closed stores. What would happen to those stores? Montgomery Ward had left six years earlier and most malls had recovered from it, often replacing it with a modern department store or perhaps a Target. Of course, the economy was pretty good: they would be easy to fill...right?

Tomorrow: Part 2: A Lucky Winner

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Kmart Post at TWR

This probably should go on this blog, but it isn't.

Click here instead.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

West Edmonton Mall directory, 1998: Part Two!

West Edmonton Mall directory, 1998

In association with Labelscar we proudly present: the West Edmonton mall directory!

Unfortunately, the first page got kind of tilted, and a lot of the directory featuring the "merchandise" of the stores, has been cut. Still, you can see an example of that on the first page with the store lists.

Onto Part Two!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

All the Malls of Texas

Recently I was...inspired by a post on Labelscar inspired me to write a full list of Texas malls.

Linked are Labelscar malls
"*" means there is a Mall Hall of Fame article.
"†" means there is a Deadmalls article.

We don't do outdoor malls either.

• Manor East Mall, Bryan*
• Post Oak Mall, College Station

Almeda Mall, Houston
• Baybrook Mall, Friendswood
• Brazos Mall, Lake Jackson
• Deerbrook Mall, Humble
• First Colony Mall, Sugar Land
• Greenspoint Mall, Houston†
• Gulfgate Center (Gulfgate Shopping City), Houston*
• Katy Mills, Katy
• Mall of the Mainland, Texas City
• Memorial City Mall, Houston
• Northline Mall, Houston
• Northwest Mall, Houston*
• Pasadena Town Square, Pasadena†
San Jacinto Mall, Houston
• Sharpstown Center (Sharpstown Mall), Houston
The Galleria, Houston*
• The Woodlands Mall, The Woodlands
• Town & Country Mall, Houston†
• West Oaks Mall, Houston
• Westwood Mall, Houston
• Willowbrook Mall, Houston

• Big Town Mall, Mesquite*†
• Collin Creek Mall, Plano
• Festival International Bazaar (Festival Marketplace Mall, Forum 303 Mall), Arlington†
• Galleria Dallas (Dallas Galleria), Dallas
• Golden Triangle Mall, Denton
• Grapevine Mills, Grapevine
• Hulen Mall, Hulen
• Irving Mall, Irving
• La Gran Plaza (Seminary South Center), Fort Worth*
• North East Mall, Hurst
North Hills Mall, North Richland Hills
NorthPark Center, Dallas*
• Prestonwood Town Center, Dallas†
• Richardson Square Mall, Richardson†
• Ridgmar Mall, Fort Worth
Six Flags Mall, Arlington
• Stonebriar Centre, Frisco
Southwest Center Mall (Red Bird Mall), Dallas
• The Parks at Arlington, Arlington
• The Shops at Willow Bend, Plano†
• Town East Mall, Mesquite
• Valley View Center, Dallas
• Vista Ridge Mall, Lewisville

• La Palmera (Padre Staples Mall), Corpus Christi
Sunrise Mall, Corpus Christi

San Antonio soon...ish?

Send me anything I missed!