Monday, 05 May 2008 05:00

GGP management on the retail market???

A sign of the times. Keep my comments on GGP's s latest results in mind when reading this aricle from

NATICK - On a recent spring day, Neiman Marcus is a ghost town. Almost everything is on sale at Calvin Klein. Gucci has delayed its opening several times, and Italian designer Piazza Sempione has bailed on its lease entirely.

highly anticipated Natick Collection, a suburban bastion of luxury
shopping where some rents are higher than coveted Newbury Street, is
off to a slow start, according to retail analysts, store owners,
managers, and employees at more than a dozen stores.

merchants blame the weak traffic on a potential recession and anemic
consumer spending. Indeed, across the country retailers are seeing
fewer shoppers, shutting stores, or filing for bankruptcy as people
pull back on discretionary spending and worry more about paying for
basics like milk and gas.

Yet others say the problem may go even
deeper, that high-end designers and top-notch fashion in the suburbs
simply haven't caught on. Natick was supposed to be the next fashion
frontier, debuting the state's first Nordstrom and first suburban
Neiman Marcus as part of a multimillion-dollar 500,000-square-foot
expansion that opened last fall.

But the hype has fallen short in
this town 20 miles west of Boston. After a brisk holiday season,
traffic has slowed, on some days, to a near standstill, merchants say.
The older part of the mall, which features sta ples like Macy's and
Gap, still sees a crush of shoppers on the weekends, they say. And
while Nordstrom is popular, much of the vast new wing - with soaring
skylights, concierge service, and fake birch trees - often remains

"We had a rough winter," said Betty Riaz, owner of trendy
boutique Stil, who pays upwards of $100 per square foot for the Natick
store, which is more than her Newbury Street shop. "It's been quiet.
Even if you have money, you may not have taste. We have to educate our
customers on style. It's hard. I thought it would be easier in Natick."

Growth Properties, which runs the mall, said it has not heard concerns
about sluggish sales and that the slowdown in consumer spending and
luxury shopping has not had an impact on the mall. Michael McNaughton,
General Growth's vice president for asset management Northeast, said
business at stores in the original part of the mall has "grown
tremendously" since the expansion opened last fall, and that the new
wing has exceeded expectations. But he declined to provide specific
traffic or sales numbers.

McNaughton disputed the suggestion that
Natick wasn't ready for high fashion, but added: "Not every retailer is
for every customer."...


Retail analysts say General
Growth may have misread the demographics and overestimated the reach of
the shopping center. While there is ample wealth in this region - the
average household income is about $110,000, nearly double the state
average - there is still a culture of buttoned-up Yankees who aren't
accustomed to indulgent spending on luxury goods, according to Madison
Riley, a retail analyst at Kurt Salmon Associates in Boston. And the
younger moms paying attention to fashion are more likely to buy a
Burberry blanket for their baby carriage than $350 designer jeans for

"There has been a culture in the Boston area of that
Yankee thriftiness, even when one had money," Riley said. "That's
changed in the city of Boston but the mentality still resides in the
suburbs, and that is impacting Natick."

Boston, with its influx
of tourists, wealthy empty-nesters, and stylish yuppies, has had better
success proving its fashion sense, keeping busy new stores like Jimmy
Choo and Gucci. Fashionistas on the North and South shores are also
more likely to hit the Boston Neiman Marcus and the shops on Newbury,
rather than head out to the western suburbs, according to Mike Tesler,
president of Retail Concepts, a consultant firm in Norwell who was not
involved in the project.

The combination of Gucci's
multiple delays, the pullout of Piazza Sempione, and other vacancies in
the new wing has worried some retailers about the future of the mall.
Gucci would not comment on the reasons behind its delays, and Piazza
Sempione would only confirm that it had backed out of the lease in

Tesler, who recently visited Natick Collection for a business lunch, said only three other cars were parked in the new premium
lot, which charges $5 and is closer to the luxury wing. Over the five
times he's visited the mall in recent months, the number of cars in the
lot has decreased with each trip.

Several Neiman Marcus
employees, not authorized to speak publicly to the Globe, complained of
very slow sales and Neiman bosses instructing employees to make calls
to the same customers two to three times a week to seek more business.

Last modified on Monday, 05 May 2008 05:00