When North Plainfield, N.J.-based Levin Management took over as leasing and managing agent for Fairlane Village Mall – located in Pottsville, Pa. – in 2006, the impending economic downturn, a likely 80,000-sq.-ft. vacancy and growing industry consensus that the days of the small-market malls were numbered created a perfect storm of challenges.
Six years later, the 405,000-sq.-ft. property serves as a repositioning benchmark. Its success story is underscored by the March 2012 opening of Kohl’s and the impending arrival of Michaels later this year.
In the following interview, David Silver, Levin’s corporate director of marketing, discusses Fairlane Village Mall’s progress and the strategy behind it.
Let’s start with leasing. What were Fairlane Village Mall’s biggest issues in terms of tenants and occupancy?
The economic crash impacted retail across the United States, with unprecedented foreclosures and store closings creating vacancies across the board. This mall was no exception. The biggest hit came when Value City closed. That tenant occupied 80,000 sq. ft., which represents nearly 20% of the mall’s GLA. We needed to fill that space. At the same time, there were smaller vacancies throughout the property that we wanted to fill with names that could draw shoppers. And keep in mind that there were lots of other retail properties with vacancies competing for the retailers who were still in growth mode.
Kohl’s just opened in 58,000 sq. ft. at the mall. How did you draw them?
We actually approached Kohl’s early on, and at the time its management was not showing interest in small markets like Pottsville. Flash forward to early 2011. We learned that a Kohl’s had opened at another small-market mall in Pennsylvania. So we compiled a demographic study that compared that market with ours. We found that the income levels were about the same (the average household income within a five-mile radius of Fairlane Village Mall is approximately $55,000). However, our property serves a larger population (38,000 people within five miles), and that population is growing, so in the aggregate, the Pottsville area had a lot more disposable income. Based on this information, Kohl’s was willing to take another look, and the process flowed from there. Of course, the success we have had in attracting other national retailers to the property over the past six years also helped to solidify the mall’s desirability for Kohl’s.
Regarding the other big retail names that have come to the mall during your tenure, do you credit the appeal of the larger market, the property itself or a combination of the two?
I believe it is a combination. Fairlane Village Mall and the area right around it is really considered to be the retail heart of Schuylkill County. We’re just a mile from the county seat in Pottsville, which has stores and restaurants, there is a Walmart center just up the road from us, and a small supermarket-anchored shopping center and a national restaurant chain nearby. Since we took over responsibility for the mall, we have brought in 126,462 sq. ft. in leases with Kohl’s, Michaels, Harbor Freight Tools, Dollar Tree, Super Shoes and Amelia’s Discount Grocery, among others. In its turn, every lease has added to the mall’s credibility, so in a sense one tenant has helped to bring in the next. Michael’s 22,000-sq.-ft. lease is the culmination of that concept in practice. In short, every retailer who wants to be in this market is looking at Fairlane Village Mall because they see the leasing momentum we have built here.
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