An unprecedented period for retail business in central Virginia took place a decade ago this month when two regional malls opened within two weeks of each other.
Their presence changed the industry’s perception of this market.
Short Pump Town Center in western Henrico County debuted on Sept. 4, with Nordstrom, long-coveted by Richmond-area shoppers, as its glamour store.
Stony Point Fashion Park in South Richmond opened Sept. 18 with Saks Fifth Avenue as its jewel of an anchor. The mall had to scrub its grand-opening party and closed early that day as the region battened down in the hours before Hurricane Isabel would howl into the state.
Both malls were battered by the storm, but both quickly regained their footing and established themselves as major players in the region’s retail landscape.
Before the malls opened, said C. Lee Warfield III, president of the Henrico-based commercial real estate brokerage Cushman & Wakefield | Thalhimer, “we didn’t have Saks Fifth Avenue or Crate & Barrel or Pottery Barn. Retailers were saying, ‘I’m not going there.’ Retailers are followers. They like certainty.
“With two malls opening at once in the same market and doing well,” he said, “it opened the floodgates.”
A decade later, both malls have most of their original tenants and only a handful of vacancies. Both malls also have seen their share of departures, including upscale retailer Louis Vuitton leaving Stony Point recently.
Both mall operators say they continuously tweak the tenant mix — and Short Pump has ambitious plans to remake the mall next year.
Both shopping centers saw an increase in taxable sales reported in 2012 compared with the previous year.
Short Pump generated $352.2 million in sales, up 4.8 percent from 2011 sales of $336.12 million, according to data compiled by Henrico’s finance department. In addition, the mall’s outparcel businesses had sales of $55.86 million in 2012, up 3 percent from 2011.
Merchants and restaurants at Stony Point rang up $110.56 million in sales last year, up 12 percent from $98.73 million in 2011, according to data from Richmond’s finance department.
Sales at Short Pump are substantially higher since 2004, the first full year for the mall, while sales are down at Stony Point during the same time period. Short Pump had $223.3 million in sales in 2004 while Stony Point had $132.2 million, data from the two localities show.
The arrival of the two malls also has hurt sales at the area’s other regional malls in the past decade, the sales data show.
The biggest hits took place at Regency Square, which saw sales drop 52 percent from 2003 to 2012, and at Virginia Center Commons, where sales fell 54 percent during the same time period, according to the sales data from Henrico.
Chesterfield Towne Center has held steady, with sales down 3 percent since 2003.
Industry observers say Short Pump continues to outperform its South Richmond rival.
“By far the stronger of the two is Short Pump Town Center,” said Brian Glass, a senior vice president with Colliers International, a commercial real estate firm with offices in Henrico.
“Short Pump’s sales per square foot are higher,” he said. “It is more easily accessible from I-64, I-295 and (state Route) 288. It draws customers from Fredericksburg, Charlottesville, Tidewater. … It’s No. 1 in the market by far.”
Warfield said the location of the two malls is a critical factor.
“Short Pump Town Center has helped spur a lot of retail development around it,” he said. “There have been about five centers that have popped up nearby — sites east and west of the mall, and across Broad Street.”
He said the resulting increase in shopper traffic pays off for the mall and for later arrivals on the retail scene.
“Stony Point Fashion Park,” Warfield said, “is an island. It has nowhere to grow, nowhere for much in the way of other development. It’s like going to see the Statue of Liberty. It’s impressive, but there’s only one way to get there and one way to get home.”
The two real estate professionals also agreed that the fact that the two malls entered the market together was important.
In 2003, 17 regional and super-regional malls opened in the U.S., according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. With two of those malls taking a bow in Richmond almost simultaneously, real estate and retail professionals took note.
“It gave credibility to our market,” Warfield said. “We were validated.”
Short Pump is nearly twice the size of Stony Point.
With its two-level layout and its expansive courtyard framing a distinctive fountain with water running from old-timey pumps, Short Pump has more than 140 stores in 1.3 million square feet of retail space.
Thirteen empty storefronts were visible last week. Mall officials say the center is 98 percent leased.
Short Pump is managed by Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises Inc., which shares ownership with QIC, an Australian investment firm, and Henrico-based Pruitt Associates, which owns half the mall.
Short Pump has lost some original tenants, such as Nicole Miller and Copper Grill Lobster and Steakhouse. Kidkadoo, also there from the beginning, will close Sept. 30.
Lord & Taylor had planned to add its iconic brand to the tenant mix, but the deal stalled and the store was never built. In its place is a two-level Saxon Shoes, an Orvis Co. store and a Cheesecake Factory restaurant.
The mall’s makeover is expected to begin late this year. Before it is done, As many as a dozen new retailers are expected to move in.
“We’ve been listening to our shoppers,” said Kemel “Kem” Blue Jr., who was named general manager of Short Pump in June. “We’ve assembled focus groups. We’ve been doing our homework. … I don’t think we’re being too bold, but we don’t want to sit still.”
For instance, the popular Apple store will expand, and the food court — with three of its eight main stalls vacant — may see significant changes, he said.
“We have something in the works” for the food court space, Blue said. He added that many customers purchase food on impulse from kiosks or food trucks and aren’t drawn to food courts as destinations.
Tommy Pruitt, a managing partner of Pruitt Associates, said the makeover will include a new bridge linking parts of Short Pump Town Center’s upper level, more escalators and/or elevators, new landscaping and a redesign of the central courtyard.
“You look at the success of this mall and you wonder, ‘Do we need to renovate?’ ” Pruitt said. “But if you wait 20 years, all of a sudden you’re behind the eight ball and it’s too late.”
The Franco’s Fine Clothiers shop at Short Pump is one of the mall’s original tenants. Mark Ambrogi, who runs the store, said he welcomes the changes planned for the mall.
“We’re going to do some renovation ourselves,” he said. “We want to open some more space for our store.”
Ambrogi — son of Franco Ambrogi, the patriarch of the business — said the mall works hard to keep its tenants in good shape. In 2004, he said, Franco’s had to close for three months after a pipe burst and caused extensive water damage.
“They worked through the insurance process with us,” he said, “and they made sure we had what we needed to reopen.”
And during the economic turmoil of recent years, he said, the mall has helped tenants promote their stores.
“We’re glad to be here,” Ambrogi said.
Stony Point’s more intimate configuration includes a kid-friendly pop-squirt fountain and some more decorative ones.
The mall has more than 75 stores in 668,000 square feet of retail space. Six empty storefronts were visible last week. The mall declined to divulge the percentage of retail space leased.
Stony Point is owned by Michigan-based Taubman Centers Inc.
Although the mall isn’t handy to an interstate, it is “centrally located and easy to reach from the West End, downtown and South Side. Stony Point Fashion Park is surrounded by prominent businesses, medical parks and some of the most affluent neighborhoods in the Richmond area,” said Steven Bonniville, who has been part of the Stony Point staff since 2009 and was named general manager in January.
The mall’s signature anchor, Saks Fifth Avenue, established the center’s reputation as a destination for the high-end shopper before it ever opened. Bonniville said the mall’s appeal is broader than that image suggests.
“I would say there is not a typical customer for us,” he said. “We appeal to a very broad base from luxury to moderate price points.”
In addition to losing Louis Vuitton, the mall has lost other highbrow tenants, including Betsey Johnson and Hollister Co. Other national chains have since closed stores or gone out of business, including Sharper Image, Mikasa, Storehouse Furniture and April Cornell.
The space where Uncle Julio’s Rio Grande Café operated has been vacant since early 2007. And Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro is gone, replaced by a dinner-and-movie theater, Cinebistro.
Other new stores have replaced some of the original ones. For example, Vineyard Vines is a recent addition. Tiffany & Co. opened a store in 2011. Kobe Sushi and Sweet Frog have been added to the food mix. After the Build-a-Bear Workshop left, Stuffy Bear Factory took over its place.
High-end fashion retailer and designer BCBGMaxAzria and miLA Bridal have stores there. Ledbury, the Richmond-based luxury shirt firm, recently chose Stony Point as the location for its first extended temporary pop-up store.
Bonniville said that in addition to the tenant mix, another factor is a key part of Stony Point’s personality.
“Being the only dog-friendly shopping center in the Richmond market is one of the better decisions that have been made concerning Stony Point Fashion Park,” Bonniville said. “Dog owners are very loyal, and having the ability to enjoy a beautiful parklike setting with your canine friend is just one of the amenities that set us apart from other locations.”
One merchant who especially likes the mall’s bring-your-dog policy is Myra Holden, owner of Three Dog Bakery, a dog treat specialty shop that has been at the mall for eight years.
“Stony Point is unique,” she said, “a place where you can go shop with your dog. It’s the perfect place for us.”
Moreover, she said, the mall’s merchants are a friendly lot, which makes it easy to enjoy working there.
“It’s a great mall in my opinion,” Holden said.
Glass, with Colliers International, said Stony Point and Short Pump have created the kind of open-air ambience shoppers have grown to expect in what is known in the industry as a lifestyle mall.
“Both malls are very appealing,” he said. “Both are very walkable. Both are very well-maintained. Shopping there is a pleasant experience.”