Robert H. Smith School of Business
Capital Business
Posted at 11:29 AM ET, 10/19/2011

Borders gone, Lowe’s cutting, Friendly’s bankrupt — where is retail’s next big thing?

Nearly four years after the recession began, the economy continues to
Lowe's announced yesterday that it would close 20 of its 1,725 stores. (Pat Wellenbach - Associated Press)
collect new retail victims.

The most recent casualties may not be all that surprising. Borders was in the books business, which was under duress in part thanks to iPads, Kindles and the like. Lowe’s, which announced that it would close 20 stores on Monday, Oct. 17, relies heavily on customers who are buying and improving their homes, which has slowed with the housing market. Friendly Ice Cream Corp. probably wasn’t most people’s idea of the hottest place for foodies, but it has already closed 63 restaurants and its bankruptcy filing recently put more than 400 others in question.

(Ben & Jerry’s has even closed its Dupont Circle location, for pete sakes! This would have been unimaginable three years ago, right?)

For shopping center owners, the ongoing duress has repeatedly led back to one question: Who is going to fill all these vacancies?

Remember, many commercial landlords have already dealt with the slimming or shuttering of major tenants in recent years, including Linen ‘n Things, Circuit City, Blockbuster, and KB Toys. As more major retailers falter, more vacancies show up in their properties.

Everyone is looking for the next big thing, and that includes Grant M. Ehat, a principal at JBG Rosenfeld Retail, whose retail portfolio in the Washington area is more than 5 million square feet.

“The one thing that worries me a little bit is where are the next large retail generators that are out there left?” Ehat said. “And how many of them are available to fill all this space that is coming.”

Ehat has found an answer in some locations: Wal-Mart. JBG opened the Wal-Mart in Alexandria and is working on stores for Tysons Corner, the District and Rockville. But not everyone can have a Wal-Mart or an Apple Store. What’s next?

By  |  11:29 AM ET, 10/19/2011

 
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