To stay viable into the future, malls need to find tenants with businesses that are difficult or impossible to move online. That includes things like parties, doctors’ offices, and a wider variety of restaurants, some of them inside already existing stores. Another business that could fit nicely into a vacant mall anchor slot: a grocery store
With major chains like Macy’s, Sears, and JCPenney shutting down large numbers of stores, mall landlords are beginning to realize they may have to fill these huge empty spaces with something other than a traditional department store.
The Wall Street Journal cites some examples of exactly that. The Natick Mall outside of Boston will welcome a Wegmans supermarket in 2018, taking over the space that formerly was a JCPenney. In Ohio, Kroger plans to build a new store on the site of a former Macy’s at the Kingsdale Shopping Center. A mall in Indiana will welcome a 365 by Whole Foods.
The advantages are obvious, at least if you own a mall: Supermarkets will pay higher rent than department stores, which have traditionally received a break due to their status as anchors that attract customers. Anchors no longer do that, but the theory is that supermarkets will bring people to the shopping center. They do, but not in a way that’s helpful to the rest of the mall.
The disadvantage is that grocery anchors don’t do what traditional mall anchors do. They don’t bring people to shop in the rest of the mall in the same numbers, since you don’t start at Wegmans, then lug your groceries through the rest of the mall.
Maybe Americans will learn to combine their shopping trips for clothes and electronics and their grocery shopping, hitting the food store on their way out. Or maybe the mall supermarket idea is ultimately doomed. Only time, and the ever-shifting needs of shoppers, will tell.