At New Jersey Mall, Sears Closing, New Multiplex Crystallize Retail’s Changes
Presented as a public service by Joe Peters of Coldwell Banker
Iconic Department Store Was an Original Anchor at Willowbrook, a 50-Year-Old Shopping Destination in Wayne
The transformation of the American mall away from retailing is now playing out in one of the most concentrated areas for these shopping centers, northern New Jersey. One of that area’s oldest regional malls is seeing change stemming from the woes of Sears Holdings.
The Sears department store at the shopping destination is closing, and a multiplex theater is set to open this summer, occupying the former site of the iconic retail chain’s auto center. It’s the latest evidence in the Garden State of brick-and-mortar retailers struggling to adapt to changing consumer habits and drive foot traffic to offset the rise of online shopping.
The landmark Sears, one of the original anchors at the 50-year-old Willowbrook Mall in Wayne, New Jersey, will be shut in mid-September, according to a company spokesman. The store this past weekend began a liquidation sale. Signs inside tell shoppers, “Nothing held back” and “Everything must go.”
Cinemark Holdings is scheduled to open a free-standing 12-screen, 44,000-square-foot movie theater at Willowbrook. The project’s contractor, Graycor Construction of Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois, said this week it is “currently ahead of schedule on the auditoriums and looks forward to finishing theater construction in time for a grand opening later this summer.”
Long-beleaguered Sears has closed many stores across the nation. The Willowbrook Sears isn’t the first department store to vacate a New Jersey mall and it likely won’t be the last.
A large J.C. Penney store closed at the Westfield Garden State Plaza mall in Paramus, New Jersey, about a year ago. The space will be divided to accommodate a number of smaller shops. And the Sears that was once an anchor of the Paramus Park mall is being replaced by the regional grocery chain Stew Leonard’s.
The Willowbrook Sears apparently isn’t the only longtime regional mall anchor Sears that will close in mid-September. The retailer’s location at the Staten Island Mall in New York, a tenant for 46 years, will also be shut, according to the Staten Island Advance.
“What is happening to the Sears space is indicative of what we are seeing all across the country,” Chuck Lanyard, president of retail brokerage The Goldstein Group, said in an email about Willowbrook.
“Major malls continue to have stores going dark at an alarming rate and their existence is threatened. As these big boxes such as Sears, J.C. Penney and Kmart, etc., all continue to be phased out, replacing these large spaces will continue to be a challenge. As for the Sears Wayne space, we will see efforts to find replacement tenants that are more in tune to today’s consumers.”
Lanyard said he expects not only movie theaters, but other entertainment and experiential retailers offering activities such as bowling, trampolines and indoor snow skiing to enter malls for the first time nationwide. He mentioned children’s learning centers focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) as an option.
“There are also prime international retail tenants such as Primark, Tesco, Muji and MCM, which could be possible tenants for the space,” said Lanyard, whose firm is based in Paramus, New Jersey.
Hoffman Estates, Illinois-based Sears Holdings filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last October. Edward Lampert, the company’s billionaire former chairman, subsequently formed Transform Holdco as a vehicle to take some 400 Sears and Kmart stores out of bankruptcy earlier this year.
“Transform Holdco was not able to reach a satisfactory agreement with the landlord of our Sears store in Wayne, New Jersey, and thus decided not to acquire the current lease for the store,” a Sears Holdings spokesman said in an email.
The number of employees who will lose their jobs at the Willowbrook Sears isn’t available, he said.
Sears’ place and role over time has dramatically diminished at Passaic County’s shopping mecca and its footprint has been significantly downsized. In 2018, Dave & Buster’s, a Dallas-based chain of restaurant/arcades, took over about 48,000 square feet of Sears’ former space. In addition, that Sears at one time not only had a separate auto center, but also an outdoor garden center. Both closed several years ago.
Brookfield Properties, Willowbrook’s owner, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The mall during its half-century life has undergone a series of renovations and upgrades, with the most recent one from 2015 to 2016. Improvements included a revamped food court. The mall has 1.5 million square feet and about 150 retailers, including Bloomingdale’s, Lord & Taylor and Macy’s.
Retail brokers say mall landlords sometimes welcome the exit of large department stores that have been tenants for a long period of time, since such stores are often paying low rents. Their departures allow landlords to carve up their space and lease it at higher prices.
Cinemark, headquartered in Plano, Texas, is a domestic and international movie exhibitor that operates 547 theaters with 6,051 screens in 41 U.S. states, Brazil, Argentina and 13 other Latin American countries.
In addition to working on the Willowbrook movie theater, Graycor just completed a multiplex in Watchung, New Jersey, for Cinemark, constructing the shell and interior fit-out of the 37,630-square-foot, 10-screen building with 892 heated recliner seats.
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