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Reactivating this Blog

6 Jan
With this post, I relaunch the Malls Across America blog, which has been relatively dormant while I was tied up with work-related tasks.

This blog is a labor of love; I enjoy shopping and the retail industry and follow it closely but primarily as an avocation rather than a vocation.

As a result, I “experience” retail as an informed consumer rather than a professional in the field.

In this blog, I share my thoughts and feelings as an informed consumer.

The first post of the relaunch–scheduled for early next week–is admittedly intended to garner a bit of attention. Future posts include reviews of malls (about one per month) or analyses of retail situations.

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Hints of the “New” Mall in Downtown Montreal Start to Emerge

4 Dec

In the summer of 2013, after the announcement that Les Ailes de la Mode was closing its downtown Montreal store, the owners of Montreal’s Complexe Les Aisles (a mall partially created when the store Les Ailes declared bankruptcy, downsized, and converted the extra space into stores) and Eaton Centre, announced that the two malls would be joined, remodelled, and rebranded. The joining is no big deal: the two malls are adjacent and physical connections already exist. Plans were supposed to be announced 6 months later.

Over two years later, the Les Ailes store is still in a perpetual “vente de fermeture” and no word about the “new” mall.

 

Until now.

The first real hint of the future came with today’s Retail-Insider.com: Saks Off-Fifth is opening in the mall. One of seven Off-Fifth sites announced yesterday, the downtown Montreal site. . .

will open in the fall of 2018. The store will likely be one of OFF 5TH’s largest Canadian stores, spanning an impressive 44,840 square feet. In 2016, Montreal Eaton Centre will merge with the space currently known as Complexe Les Ailes to form a single property, welcoming a combined 34 million visitors a year.

I figured that the owners of the malls were waiting for a major tenant announcement before announcing plans. An off-price retailer wasn’t in my sights. I speculated that HBC might locate its Montreal Saks Fifth Avenue store there (which made little sense, because they could easily fit it into the nearby Hudson’s Bay store, just as they are doing in Toronto and industry insiders speculated they would do) or that Simons might relocate there (compared to its new stores, especially the larger and chicer store at Galeries d’Anjou, the Ste-Catherine flagship is starting to look a bit small and dated).

Looking forward to hearing more about the newly merged centres, a move now scheduled for next year.

(HBC also announced that OffFifth will open in the former Holt Renfrew store at Place Ste-Foy in Quebec City.)

Montreal Premium Outlets to Open this Thursday

29 Oct

Premium is the best brand in outlets.

Woodbury Commons, the amazing outlet mall about 45 minutes outside of New York City? A Premium outlet mall.  Wrentham Village south of Boston and Merrimack north of Boston?  Both are Premium-brand outlets.  (Added bonus at Merrimack:  no sales tax.)

What makes Premium-branded outlet malls so special?  Superior selection of stores–all of them real stores (not stores that exclusively locate at discount malls), most of them upscale.  Comfortable shopping environments.  Good selection of merchandise (though watch out–some of the merchandise is only sold at outlet stores, even in first brand malls).

Now, Premium is opening outside of Montreal, the second Premium Outlet mall in Canada. (The other opened last year outside of Toronto and is already expanding.)

Among the stores at Premium Outlets Montreal:  local retailers Hudson’s Bay Outlet,Rudsak,Aldo (yes this is a Canadian store–based in Montreal),Brown’s Shoes, Danier Leather,David’s Tea, and Laura Secord chocolates.

They’ll be joined by international retailers Hugo Boss, Coach, Desiqual, Jack Jones, Puma, Ecco, Clark, Samsonite, Michael Kors, plus scores more in Phase 1.

For a complete store listing, click here.

Stores open at 10 am this Thursday, October 30.

Review: Crossgates Mall

14 Mar

Albany, New York. USA.

Quick Review

This well-located mall at intersections of Interstate Highways 90 and 87 in Albany, New York has a split personality.

Its Dr. Jekyll wing has some of the nicer stores in Albany, including a large Pottery Barn, a well-stocked Williams-Sonoma, Coach, Forever 21, and a recently remodeled JC Penney, among others.

But the rest of the mall appears more like Mr. Hyde.  Some of the stores seem local; some look temporary, and many have appeared boarded up for quite some time, indicating that the landlord has had difficulty leasing this space.  The recent addition of a Dave & Buster’s hasn’t improved the ambience.

Despite the upscale appearance of the Dr. Jekyll wing, Mr. Hyde’s less pleasant personality pervades the mall.  It provides the ambience for the food court, which features an unimaginative collection of fast food stalls like Subway, Wendy’s, and Little Tokyo amidst neighbors of a nearly equal number of boarded-up stalls, all in an unappetizing environment of stationary, white metal 1990s-era furniture and hardware.

But the characteristic of the mall that creeps me out the most are the omnipresent security guards every weekend evening.  I know the heavy security presence is supposed to make people feel safe in light of an onslaught of raucous teenagers marauding the mall (the Mall of American pioneered such a policy after a serious crime in that mall).  But the rent-a-cops look like under-age hall monitors inspecting people’s every moves.  I was taking a photo in the mall and one of them quickly ran over to warm me that photo taking inside the mall wasn’t allowed.

And the sheer quantity of them and their uber-visibility makes me wonder just how safe the mall really is.  Security is usually most visible in those shopping areas where safety is of the greatest concern.

The basic problem with this mall is that it’s far larger than it needs to be for its market (at least, that’s the problem in my mind). According to the Wikipedia, the mall expanded in 1994 and, a few years later, contemplated an expansion that would more than double its size.  Given the current shape of the mall, the shelving of that second expansion is probably best for all concerned.  But it speaks to the outsized ambitions of the over-exuberant developer and landlord of this mall.  The same company develops and manages DestinyUSA, a mid-market mall in Syracuse, New York that was once slated to overshadow the Mall of American in size and scope. Although some expansion of that mall occurred and the mall was rebranded with a more provocative name, a lack of financing has prevented from the mall from growing beyond the needs of its community.  Telling, too, is the fact that two of the first three malls developed by this company—which were only developed in the 1970s—were demolished, one well over a decade ago.

In addition to the main mall, the mall developer also maintains a big box mall with a two-story Walmart Super Center and Party City, among others.   I’m amazed that it does such a good business; finding that big box mall from the highway is no easy task.

Fast Facts about the Mall
Anchors: Best Buy. Burlington Coat Factory. Lord and Taylor (coming this fall). JC Penney. Macy’s.National chains: Aeropostale. Aldo. American Eagle. Dick’s Sporting Goods. DSW Show Warehouse. F.Y.E. Forever  21. Gap. H&M. Pottery Barn. Williams Sonoma.

In the nearby big box mall: Michael’s. Panera. Party City. Walmart.

Variety of merchandise: Excellent.  OK selection of fashion. But for a mall, the selection of electronics and sporting goods is excellent.

Soft goods for the home in department stores

Special notes:

Security presence on weekends is overwhelming; makes me question whether shopping there is safe.

Food court: Limited selection and out-of-date surroundings.  If you can afford to spend a bit more, check out one of the restaurants in the mall, like Pizzeria Uno.

Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossgates_Mall

Website: www.shopcrossgates.com

Festive Eating at the Food Court

11 Oct

Some of my favorite food court foods:

In the United States In Canada
  • Black pepper chicken from Panda Express.
  • Hot pretzels from Auntie Anne (if you can tolerate the long wait).
  • (until it became politically incorrect) Cottage fries and chicken sandwiches from Chick-Fil-A (which is not open on Sundays).
  • The pasta salads at Everything Yogurt.
  • Free samples from Sarku Japan and the Bourbon Chicken stands.
  • Unique flavors of soft yogurt (like peanut butter and peach) from Freshens.
  • A brochette meal from Grillades Torino.
  • Chicken soup (meal-sized portion) from Thai Express.
  • The burgers at Smart Burger (they’re smart; fries aren’t so shabby either).
  • Coffee from Tim’s (a Canadian staple).
  • Free or $1 coffee—any size specials from McDonald’s (about 1 of these promotions a quarter, usually early February, May, August, and November).
  • Anything from the new food court in the Subway level of the Queen Street Bay.

(A little secret: Although Canadian food courts have more culinary variety than American food courts, nearly all of these outlets are franchised through a single company.)