As department store chains shrink, their former stores in malls have remained empty, making mall operators unhappy and customers wary of all the dark anchor spaces – those at either end of the mall, once the hustling, bustling home to this Big Name Chain or another one. What’s a mall operator to do?
Increasingly, a Philadelphia Inquirer article noted last week (April 11), supermarkets are increasingly being invited – or independently exploring opportunities – to take over spaces once occupied by J.C. Penney, Sears, Macy’s or another once-popular, now-fading national or regional department store outlet.
The malls offer several serious pluses to food sellers:  They have the right zoning;  they were designed for high traffic, and have parking lots to accommodate it, and  they tend to be in easy-to-get-to/from locations. (A notable exception to the latter is Virginia’s Tysons Corner area, just outside Washington, D.C. When I lived in that area 40 years ago, after a few harried visits, I wouldn’t go near the “place” – actually an accumulation of shopping centers positioned so close to each other that getting from one to another was a nightmare and avoiding the entire mess was all but impossible.
(The Tysons Center website lists more than 300 stores, including an Amazon kiosk. And that’s in just one of the shopping centers!)
In the Philadelphia area, a Whole Foods already has replaced a department store at Plymouth Meeting Mall. Another Whole Foods is due to open later in the year at Exton Square Mall, and a Wegman’s is in the works for the Montgomery Mall. The article also noted that “Jimbo’s, a specialty food chain much like Whole Foods, opened at Westfield Horton Plaza in San Diego; Wegmans is replacing a Penneys near Boston; and College Mall in Bloomington, Ind., will welcome 365 by Whole Foods Market this fall.”
Expect to see more such activity in coming months and years.