Store closing signals end of era for many shoppers

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Published: February 14,2005

Jackson — When McRae’s at Meadowbrook Mart closed January 22, it signaled the end of an era, one in which the homegrown department store almost seemed immune to marketplace fluctuations in metro Jackson.

Mississippians remained loyal to McRae’s, established by Sam McRae Sr., with the opening of a small department store on Capitol Street in 1902, even after the McRae family joined the Proffitt’s Inc. family of department stores in March 1994, part of Birmingham, Ala.-based Saks Incorporated (NYSE:SKS), the leading regional department store company in the southeastern U.S.

During its nearly 100-year growth, McRae’s retained a unique family character, largely because all employees were “associates” and enjoyed the company’s profit-sharing retirement trust. The Meadowbrook Mart location represented McRae’s first suburban store when it opened in North Jackson in 1955.

Saks Inc. declined to comment on the recent performance of the Meadowbrook store. Its lease expired on January 31, 2005, and the company announced its closure on November 15.

“The closing of our McRae’s Meadowbrook store is consistent with our strategy of rationalizing our real estate portfolio in order to focus our capital and other resources on our most productive locations,” said George Jones, president and CEO of Saks Department Store Group (SDSG). “We remain very dedicated to McRae’s hometown of Jackson, Miss., and will continue to serve our many loyal Meadowbrook customers in our three other area locations” at the Dogwood Festival Mall, Northpark Mall and Metrocenter Mall.

Never good to see a building close

Jackson commercial Realtor Phillip Carpenter said it’s not good for any metro area building to be closed.

“It’s not good for the neighborhood,” he said. “There are increased security risks and there is, unfortunately, a negative perception of closing a building, especially one that has been open for so long. The good news is that the closing creates opportunities for other retailers that have wanted to get into the market, but couldn’t because that type of building didn’t exist. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that another good retailer will come occupy that space.”

Mike Peters, owner of Peters Real Estate in Jackson, whose portfolio includes the Downtown Plaza Building and Fondren renovation projects, is assisting with marketing the 69,000-square-foot building for the New York REIT (real estate investment trust) that owns it. He said national tenants have expressed interest in buying or leasing the space.

“It’s just speculation at this point,” he said. “We have two different type situations working. One is to help solidify the small shops on the other end of the shopping center and rework that entire area. Another is we have two fairly large national retailers looking at taking the McRae’s space. None of them are at a point of saying there’s a real good shot of making that happen. It’s in the early stages.”

Jackson real estate broker Maurice Joseph, who represents the New York REIT, declined to comment on the property status. “We have plans but there’s nothing firm enough to talk about,” he said.

Difficult decision to make

Toni Browning, president and CEO of Proffitt’s/McRae’s, said the 60 associates affected by the closure, many of whom were mainstays at the department store, were offered a transfer or received severance packages.

“While this is a sound business decision, it was certainly a difficult one to make,” said Browning.

Since the beginning of the fourth quarter of 2004, the company has opened one store and sold or closed 21 stores.
Saks Inc. opened its first Proffitt’s store in Birmingham and announced the opening of a fifth Proffitt’s store in Knoxville and a Parisian store in Little Rock, Ark. It also sold or closed 10 Saks Fifth Avenue stores, four Proffitt’s stores in North Carolina, three Off 5th stores, two Parisian stores, one Younkers store, and the McRae’s Meadowbrook Mart store.

“We are not ‘consolidating,’ but will continue to open and close stores in the ordinary course of business,” said Saks Inc. spokesperson Julia Bentley.

The company operates its SDSG with department stores under the names of McRae’s, Parisian, Proffitt’s, Younkers, Herberger’s, Carson Pirie Scott, Bergner’s, Boston Store and 38 mall-based Club Libby Lu specialty stores, and also operates Saks Fifth Avenue Enterprises (SFAE), comprised of Saks Fifth Avenue stores, Saks Off 5th stores, and saks.com.
SDSG will continue to operate 29 McRae’s department stores throughout Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.

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