Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Competition, crime drive stores from Antioch mall

Dillard's is latest retailer to flee Hickory Hollow By WENDY LEE • Staff Writer (Tennessean)) • June 3, 2008 Dillard's Inc. confirmed Monday that it will close its Hickory Hollow Mall store in August, becoming the latest tenant to leave a once vibrant Nashville shopping center that has found itself caught in the grip of neighborhood crime and increased retail competition from nearby suburbs. Leased mall space at the 428,000-square-foot Antioch shopping center has declined about 10 percent since 2005, losing anchor tenants such as J.C. Penney and Hallmark along the way. Now, Dillard's, and later this year, Linens 'n Things, will be added to that list. In the past, Metro police have identified Hickory Hollow Mall as a location with significant gang activity, but recent efforts to curtail crime in the area — including a 2006 curfew to require everyone 18 years and under to be accompanied by a parent in the mall after 6 p.m. each Friday and Saturday — seem to have shown some improvement. While robberies are still up at the mall this year, petty thefts like shoplifting are down, according to numbers provided by Michael Alexander, commander of the South precinct. "We're trying to be very proactive to address the issues at Hickory Hollow Mall," he said. Mall nearing its end? Still, for retailers trying to attract a reliable base of customers, the increased police attention may not be enough. "The life cycle may be over for that mall, or getting close," said Steve Rudd, a partner with Nashville-based Restaurant Retail Properties, a commercial real estate company. "Their market has just really slimmed down." In addition, the mall faces tough new competition from places like Providence MarketPlace in Mt. Juliet, which offers a J.C. Penney, and The Avenue, a new shopping center in Murfreesboro that includes a Belk department store. As far as Dillard's closing, company spokeswoman Julie J. Bull said simply, "The company is closing underperforming stores, and this is an underperforming store." The Antioch store is one of eight underperforming locations nationwide that will be closed by the Little Rock, Ark.-based department store. The store's 90 employees will be transferred to four other Dillard's in the Nashville area, Bull said. Crime worries linger Katie Reinsmidt, spokeswoman for CBL & Associates Properties Inc., which owns Hickory Hollow Mall, said the company is determined to "continue to try to make Hickory Hollow the best destination it can possibly be." Reinsmidt said Dillard's leaving will open new possibilities for the mall, adding that other CBL properties have replaced vacant spaces with new department stores or alternative stores such as a Burlington Coat Factory. CBL & Associates also owns RiverGate Mall and CoolSprings Galleria. Some retailers and shoppers said they were saddened by the department store's departure, as concerns about crime at the mall continue to linger. This year, Hickory Hollow Mall has had 54 reported thefts, 30 burglaries and 13 robberies, according to police statistics. "People don't want to come to Hickory Hollow anymore because of" the crime, said Melody Taft, a manager at women's apparel store 5-7-9. Taft said she has witnessed her share of fights around the mall's food court. "It was awful," Taft said of the mall's tense atmosphere, adding that it made her not want to work there. And mall customers like Becky Oliver said now that Dillard's is leaving, the mall will become a less attractive place to shop. "It's really going downhill," Oliver said. "It's really sad." Oliver's comments were cut short when a mall security officer ordered a Tennessean reporter and photographer off the mall property. Competition hurts, too Increased competition from retailers opening in the suburbs where Hickory Hollow Mall once drew shoppers, has also contributed to its declining performance. Quincy Johnson, a 48-year-old Antioch resident, said without a Dillard's he probably won't visit Hickory Hollow Mall twice a week as he does now, going instead to CoolSprings Galleria. Mall sales per square foot at Hickory Hollow continue to decline, coming in at $226 per-square-foot last year. Its occupancy rates have also suffered compared to its peers. Last year, Hickory Hollow had an 84 percent occupancy rate, compared to CoolSprings Galleria at 99 percent and RiverGate Mall at 97 percent, according to CBL & Associates' filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Mojeeb Ansari, a partner at Universal Imports, which sells items such as knives and figurines, said that sales were up when his store opened at Hickory Hollow 11 years ago. Now his sales are down 30 percent, Ansari said. "It's slow," Ansari said. "CoolSprings and Opry Mills kill this mall." From a real estate point of view, Rudd said even the physical topography of the place — the hills — don't break in the mall's favor. Poor visibility from the road makes it difficult to recruit retail tenants there. "I bet (CBL) would love to (sell the mall), but I don't think they will," Rudd said. "Who would buy it?" Not everyone has given up on Hickory Hollow Mall. City Councilman Sam Coleman, who represents the area, said a plan of action between businesses, city and state officials will help revitalize the area. "We're just transitioning and we're just hitting a tough little skid here," Coleman said. "We're going to get it right. We're not going to let Hickory Hollow fail." Lisa Green and Chas Sisk contributed to this report. Wendy Lee can be reached at 259-8092.

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