Renovations at the East Hills Shopping Center could be the answer to a struggling business model and the first step for entrepreneurs.
Work began this week on The River, a project to create about 10 new spaces for part-time tenants at the mall.
The approximately 30,000-square-foot space is located on the corner near the carousel and Gordmans. Topsy’s was located in the spot but has temporarily moved to another storefront next to Kay Jewelry and Pink. Once the project is completed at the end of the summer, Topsy’s will move back into the renovated space permanently. A full-time coffee shop is also going to be a permanent part of the new area, too.
The River will have a modern feel with lots of glass and stone. Tenants will rent individual spaces on a short-term lease. Tenants can rent for as little as a week or as long as a month or a year, at a discount.
“This is good for seasonal stores,” said Miu Sutton, marketing director at the mall. “You don’t have to commit for a long-term lease for two or three years.”
Sutton said the concept is a great way for entrepreneurs to test their products and even their business plan.
“It’s a great way for young professionals to get their feet wet without costing them a whole lot,” she said.
East Hills is calling the project a pop-up retail space. The shops, while small and temporary, are used by companies to build interest in their product or service.
“Customers are attracted to exclusivity,” Sutton said in a release. “They’re attracted to a ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ type of concept.”
One of the initial challenges facing any entrepreneur is finances, especially with a storefront. The River might fill that gap.
“It absolutely will be great for who I work with,” said Annette Weeks, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Missouri Western State University. “This gives them the opportunity to start with low overhead but be able to reach potential clients. And then they can test the market and as they see success they can grow into larger space with larger overhead.”
Shopping centers around the country are looking at new ways to engage customers. St. Joseph’s mall is no exception.
Projects, like The River, have been done at other shopping centers. The East Hills staff studied shopping trends and what works. They are forming their new format after those successful models.
In the last year, some big names in retail have left the mall including Sears. Vanity, Charming Charlie’s and Lids have closed and Charlotte Rouse is joining the list.
It’s been a rough five years for retailers across the country. While East Hills has seen their fair share of closings, it’s not an indicator of local troubles. The fact is, retailers are hurting on a grand scale.
Macy’s, J. Crew, Payless, American Apparel and The Limited are all making cuts as they wade through financial troubles.
Even big corporations like Ascena Retail Group, responsible for brands like Lane Bryant, Ann Taylor Loft, Dress Barn and Justice, are expected to close more than 250 stores by 2019. A list has not been made public just yet so there is no word on whether or not the Justice store in the mall will close.
It’s the effect of fierce competition between brick and mortar and online shopping trends.
There may be a light at the end of the tunnel, however.
Digital retailers are merging with physical stores. For example, Amazon bought Whole Foods Market last year.
Companies are embracing new ways of doing business and re-engineering how they connect with customers, according to the The National Retail Federation’s 2018 retail forecast.
“From what we know in the economy right now, people still seek that personal connection which is why boutiques are thriving right now,” Weeks said. “They know who they are buying from (at boutiques). They’re seeking that relationship and they want to support local businesses as well.”
But 2018 is a new year and mall officials said they are in talks with companies looking to fill vacancies.