Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Specialized Shopping Centers Become Trend

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Specialized Shopping Centers Become Trend

Article excerpt

Smaller, more specialized shopping centers are the trend in U.S. retail developing, due to the scarcity of sites and market potential for regional shopping centers, according to a survey by Laventhol & Horwath, a national accounting firm.

"What these malls (situated between the major malls) aim to do is capitalize on market segments that are ignored by regional malls or on the conjestion and inconvenience found in the huge regional shopping malls," said Hal R. Hall, director of real estate advisory services in the firm's Dallas office.

To exemplify this trend, Hall described centers that range in size from 120,000 to 250,000 square feet and contain a mix of restaurants and "traditional shopping center mall-type stores."

Most developmental trends have skirted Oklahoma since the real estate downturn that occured in the wake of depressed oil prices. However, a local expert said there is ample evidence of the specialty center here. They have simply been built on a smaller scale.

"The majority of specialty centers (in metropolitan Oklahoma City) range in size from 30,000 to 70,000 square feet and, are customarily not anchored by large-scale department stores," said Carl Edwards, a principal in the firm of Price, Edwards, Henderson & Co.

He cited Town & Country Village, North Penn Plaza, Courtyard Plaza, Brixton Square and Nichols Hills Plaza as typical specialty centers for this area.

"The nationwide trend of larger specialty malls might have been going in this direction and it may still," he said. "I think that's what they were trying to do with Lohmann's Plaza. That was a large specialty center anchored by Lohmann's Village and the preferred tenant mix was to be soft goods stores. It didn't work, but the mall, which underwent foreclosure, is ready to be re-marketed."

An exception to the Oklahoma City standard of specialty centers, Edwards acknowledged, is 50 Penn Place on the Northwest Expressway across from Penn Square Mall.

With Balliet's as an anchor tenant and eating establishments that include the Interurban Restaurant, it more closely approximates Hall's ideal.

But, regardless of the size of the centers, they came into being as a response to the increasing sophistication of the American shopper, both men said.

Edwards' experience as an owner and manager of shopping malls in Oklahoma dates back 16 years. In his opinion, shopping center trends reflect the evolutionary process of mall and store owners catering to the tastes and predelictions of the buying public.

"Shoppers today are more sophisticated," he said. "They know what they want and they go to a specific center for that item.

"The trick of the specialty center is that if you can get them there, they'll go to other places. That requires having the right tenant mix."

"In the smaller shopping center, the merchandise and stores can cater to the needs of a more select group of shoppers," Hall said. "Thus, the shopping experience is more convenient, more pleasurable and less strenuous."

Hall said the trend has even carried over into a "general merchandise orientation to specialty retailing."

"Sears, for example has opened independent paint and hardware stores and computer stores," he said. "Montgomery Wards has Electric Avenue, Auto Express and Home Ideas. JCPenney has Mixit, Units and Alcott & Andrews."

Edwards said shoppers want service.

"Aside from knowing and wanting a certain quality of merchandize, people want to be recognized when they go into a store," he said. "This is particularly true of the high-dollar customer. That's the appeal of places like North Penn Plaza."

Does it sound familiar? Weren't the major malls, that caused the exodus of retail businesses from downtowns everywhere, erected in answer to the congestion and inconvenience of downtown shopping? …

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