New owners plan cautious change for Highland Village
by Ted Carter
Published: November 29,2013
As lease renewal time arrived, second-generation Highland Village retailers Ken and Tracy Szilasi weighed the tremendous potential of Ridgeland’s Renaissance at Colony Park and Madison’s thriving retail centers.
The Maison Weiss owners ultimately decided their best play was to stay put and continue catering to a customer base Ken Szilasi’s grandparents Nell and Bernie Weiss began cultivating when they opened the apparel and specialty store in August 1975. He is convinced he is on the best retail corner in metro Jackson, a Northside Drive location he calls “the corner of Main and Main.”
And the corner is about to become much more with the early 2014 opening of the 30,000-square-foot Whole Foods, a hugely popular seller of fresh, organic produce and other healthy and environmentally sustainable food products.
“It will be a whole new dynamic,” Ken Szilasi said of his new co-tenant. “It has a cult following and a great demographic for us.”
What’s more, the store will open with the distinction as Mississippi’s first Whole Foods.
All things considered, the Szilasis’ decision to renew came easy — an established multi-generational following accustomed to the Northside Drive location, easy access off Interstate 55 and a neighbor that will draw customers with the disposable income to add a stop at add Maison Weiss to their Whole Foods visit.
“Of course, I looked,” Ken Szilasi said of potential locations in Ridgeland and Madison. “People talked about Madison County, but I feel being in the Capital City is important.”
What’s more, “I love being at the Exit 100. It is so easy to get on and off of.”
And to recall if you’re coming from out of town, added Szilasi, who has been running the store with wife Tracy since the early 1980s.
Szilasi describes the 12,000-square-foot Maison Weiss as a “full-service specialty shop” that sells “pretty much what a department store would sell,” with everything from cosmetics, to shoes to denim to luxury apparel.
The targeted female customer ranges from “16 to gray,” Szilasi said.
With a new eight-year lease, the Ken and Tracy Szilasi plan what will be the fifth remodel of the store since its opening.
The fashion’s store remodel won’t be the only one taking place at the specialty retail center that spans 14 acres between the I-55 East Frontage Road and Old Canton Road up to Northside Drive.
New owners WS Development of Chestnut Hill, Mass., says it will begin redoing the facades of store units that become vacant over the coming months and years.
More immediately, WS Development plans a new facade for the far northern section of the complex where the rear of buildings face I-55, said Lou Masiello, the company’s VP of development.
“Roughly the first 50 to 60 percent of the property is populated by stores that face I-55” and will be left alone, he added.
The northern end, which includes a former grocery store that extends to Northside Drive, will get the facelift, according to Masiello.
“We are exploring how to make it more appealing frontage. We think we can make it feel more approachable from I-55,” he said.
“It’ll likely be done in one fell swoop.”
More open walk-in entrances throughout the 225,000-square-foot property are planned as well, he said. “We think we can improve them to make them more open and inviting” using signage and reconstructing and relocating some entrance ways, bridges and stairways.
“We’re tying the property together,” Masiello said. “Many of the merchants want a more evident expression of the brand of their store.”
For now, he said, “We’re working with an architect to think up strategies where we can improve on those elements.”
Highland Village’s nearly 50 businesses include shops for women’s and men’s apparel, children’s apparel, shoes, jewelry, home and gift, health and beauty and travel. It also has a handful of popular restaurants, a bank and a U.S. Postal Service office.
“We’re happy with our tenant mix,” said Masiello, whose company acquired Highland Village in 2012.
The mix, he added, “has a broad-based appeal to multiple demographics.”
Remarkably, he said, the village and its businesses have stayed “special and nostalgic” over the years.
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