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".


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