Extreme Makeover

To be truly fashion-forward, a closet must be refreshed periodically. This is equally true for premiere, class “A” regional malls that pride themselves on offering the hottest apparel and most fashionable retail the industry has to offer. If wardrobe success depends on what’s hanging in your closet, shopping centers hang their success on merchandising savvy and tenant mix.

A classic example of an established, highly successful shopping center that is taking its merchandise mix to the next level is Willow Grove Park Mall in suburban Philadelphia, owned and operated by Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), also of Philadelphia.

Following the Federated/Macy’s acquisition of the May Co., former May brand Strawbridge’s closed its store in Willow Grove Park Mall in 2006. PREIT seized the opportunity created by the vacant anchor space to re-merchandise the mall with an exciting mix of fashion-forward retail and compelling sit-down restaurants.

First to the table was The Cheesecake Factory, which opened in 2007, filling a 10,000-sq.-ft. portion of the wing. After a temporary lull, activity resumed with gusto, and Willow Grove Park welcomed Bravo Cucina Italiana, another upscale eatery occupying 7,500 sq. ft., and the expansion of Forever 21 from its previous location in the center to a larger, two-level 17,000-sq.-ft. space. Both of these tenants opened in the latter half of 2011.

Nordstrom Rack will open its third location in the Philadelphia market on May 10, in a 41,000-sq.-ft. space adjacent to The Cheesecake Factory. And the grand finale of the re-merchandised renovation will be the opening of a 115,000-sq.-ft. J.C. Penney store on October 5.

“We wanted to re-merchandise in a way that would position the property with more than a department store, and we are excited about the great mix of tenants,” proclaimed Joseph F. Coradino, president and, effective June 2012, CEO of PREIT. “This will be one of the first new-format stores opened by J.C. Penney since Ron Johnson took the lead there, and it will showcase Johnson’s new vision for the company.”

The center has always performed well, with strong fashion-oriented anchors in Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s and Sears. “In spite of Strawbridge’s closing, average sales have continued to exceed $400 per square foot, and the center has maintained a 96% occupancy rate,” Coradino continued.

The Willow Grove Park trade area encompasses a 15-mile radius of affluent suburbs, with a population of 1,400,000 people, roughly 500,000 homes and average household incomes of $75,000. The median age is 38 years old, and 36% of the homes boast an average value of $250,000.

While the renovation of the former Strawbridge’s anchor space will be completed with the opening of the J.C. Penney, re-merchandising is an ongoing process for A+ malls.

“We’d like to bring a third sit-down restaurant to Willow Grove and perhaps add some technology retailers to the mix,” Coradino stated. “We have the opportunity to take this mall to the $500 sales per square foot range — and that’s rarefied air to get to breathe.”