Retailing professionals say the worst is behind them

Retailing professionals say the worst is behind them

The Record

North Jersey is a prime target for retail expansion, as companies recover from the retail recession of the past two years and new businesses take advantage of vacant spaces, said real estate professionals attending the International Council of Shopping Centers deal-making conference in New York on Monday.

The two-day event, which drew more than 6,000 retail real estate brokers, landlords and potential tenants to the Hilton New York and Sheraton New York hotels, started on a more upbeat note than in the previous two years.

Brokers mingled and took meetings on the conference floor and said this year the deals are for real. “Serious deals are being done,” said Matthew Harding, of Levin Management, which manages North Jersey properties such as Edgewater Square in Edgewater and Clifton Plaza in Clifton. “Last year, there was more talking. This year, there’s more doing.”

“The bottom line is we believe the worst is behind us,” said retail analyst Dana Telsey, chief executive officer of Telsey Advisory Group. “We’re not back to the races, but we’re better than we were.”

William Taubman, chairman of the ICSC, reminded attendees in his keynote address that the industry still is a long way from the boom years. He called 2009 “a year when the shopping center industry was put to its most severe test.” Some 26 million square feet of retail space went vacant in the first half of 2009, and the year had the lowest amount of new retail space open in the history of shopping centers, he said. While the past five quarters have shown positive absorption of retail space, with 12 million square feet absorbed in the most recent quarter, the era of overbuilding is clearly over, Taubman said.

Retailers who have targeted North Jersey for expansion included two companies featured as hot concepts during the Retail Runway presentation at the conference – healthy fast-food chain Energy Kitchen and casual dining and drinking group Miller’s Alehouse.

Anthony Leone, founder of Energy Kitchen, said he has four locations in the works in Wayne, Jersey City, New Brunswick and Princeton.

Wayne-based Toys “R” Us, which opened 600 pop-up holiday stores this year and plans to continue to aggressively look for new locations for temporary and permanent stores, was another retailer featured on the Retailers Runway.

“We’re here to make deals,” said Dave Picot, senior vice president for property development at Toys “R” Us. “The more deals we make, the better we’ll both be,” Picot said, noting that Toys “R” Us temporary stores draw traffic to malls, fill empty spaces and are great tenants.

“We’ll make a deal today, move in in June, and be there through the holiday,” said Picot, who invited brokers and landlords to stop by the Toys “R’ Us booth and have their picture taken with a Geoffrey the Giraffe costumed character, the company’s mascot.

Another North Jersey retailer that is expanding is Totowa-based Big M Inc., which operates the women’s fashion chains Mandee, Annie Sez and Afaze. “What did we learn from the economic downturn?” said Dan Mandelbaum, a principal in the company. “To never let a recession go to waste.”

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