Metrocenter owner Shervin Mateen hardly expected the news he received a couple days after Christmas — the mall’s original and last remaining anchor would be shutting its doors for good.
“It’s very shocking,” he said in light of the improving sales mall merchants had been reporting this holiday season compared to previous years.
“Sales were increasing and then we hear the news Sears is closing,” said Mateen, CEO of mall owner Cannon Commercial, in an interview last Tuesday.
Last year when Cannon Commercial fell delinquent in making debt payments on the mall, Mateen said he hoped to find a buyer. The Sears departure makes those prospects less certain, he conceded.
“After the Sears announcement it is unknown whether such a transaction can be accomplished any time soon,” he said, predicting diminished buyer interest. Cannon Commercial early last year closed the mall’s ground floor and concentrated remaining tenants on the upper floor. Mateen credits that move with helping to make this holiday season “a very successful one” for tenants.
Clothing retailer Jerome Carcamo agreed. Moving the stores to the upper floor has consolidated customer traffic “and really helped,” said Carcamo, district manager of Metrocenter tenant Man of Fashion.
Carcamo, who has managed various stores in the mall for 15 years, said he does not think the shuttering of Sears will hurt either his business or the business of his fellow tenants. Most, he said, are niche retailers who draw customers in pursuit of specific types of items. For instance, urban hip-hop clothing at Men of Fashion, Carcamo added.
Men of Fashion has a couple of more years on its lease and is inclined to renew, the manager said.
Likewise, Metrocenter tenant Burlington Coat Factory is unlikely to suffer after the departure of Sears, said Yandell Wideman, principal of SouthEast Properties, a real estate investment firm that owns the space Burlington leases.
“Burlington’s sales were up 8 percent this year,” he said, though he conceded that percentage of increase is based on what was likely a less-than-spectacular 2010.
Strong holiday sales aside, the loss of Sears is certain to hurt the remaining tenants, said Nina Holbrook, a commercial real estate professional and executive director of the Metrocenter Area Coalition, an organization of business and residents formed 14 years ago to advocate for the mall and the area around it.
Sears had kept traffic coming to the area “and we were building on that,” she said. “There are reasons why there are anchors — they draw traffic,” Holbrook said. “You can’t depend on people just walking into a mall without an anchor to draw traffic.”
What worries her, Holbrook said, is when departures start, “they don’t stop.”
Sears was Metrocenter Mall’s first anchor and will be the last to leave. “Without anchors it’s no longer a mall,” Holbrook said.