By Debra D. Bass St. Louis Post-Dispatch
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The new "Emerge" boutique at a St.Louis shopping outlet, is part of a concerted programming effort to entice shoppers. Boutiques, wineries and entrepreneurs who will occupy Emerge are getting a deal they couldn't refuse -- a mall storefront without the commitment of rent. Emerge businesses will pay a portion of their sales to the center, but otherwise the cost is only their payroll.
Taubman Prestige Outlets is betting on an eclectic pop-up shop of local products and designer goods to attract the interest of capricious shoppers.
Located in a prime location next to the food court and across from the busy Gap and Polo Ralph Lauren Factory Store, Emerge boutique will feature a rotating schedule of regional businesses starting April 7.
"Our customer is expecting so much more from us," general manager Colleen O'Neill explained. And she says, malls and outlets are working with a lot less.
The beleaguered 40-year-old Chesterfield Mall -- located about 3.5 miles east of Taubman -- filled some of its numerous vacancies with nonretailers, including some nonprofits, but more space appears to be resolutely vacant as the property undergoes a complicated for-sale process.
CBL & Associates Properties said Chesterfield Mall "experienced declining cash flows as competition from several new outlet shopping centers in the area impacted its sales," in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to explain walking away from the property with a $140 million outstanding loan.
The two outlets, which opened head-to-head, were expected to be fierce rivals, but St. Louis Premium Outlets continues to maintain a steady occupancy rate and O'Neill at Taubman says they've eased into a de facto truce.
"I don't feel like the whole 'outlet wars' stuff ever really happened," O'Neill said.
Representatives at St. Louis Premium Outlets declined to comment.
But overall, if the outlets didn't battle each other, they surely spurred the demise of Chesterfield Mall, which will likely be redeveloped into something other than a mall.
"Overall retail tax revenue has been flat overall (just 1.5 to 2 percent gains) which says that there was no real (financial) gain from having two outlets," said Libby Tucker, assistant city administrator for Chesterfield.
She said that they're happy to have the options for residents and visitors but she's anxious for Chesterfield Mall to be sold and recreated into a vital city asset once more.
"We know it can't sustain a mall but maybe a mixed-use facility with condos and retail," Tucker said. A morning visit this week found it sparsely filled with mall walking exercisers, a dozen or so moms and kids in a playgroup, a midmorning fitness class in the food court and a few off-peak shoppers.
Weekday mornings aren't brisk shopping times, so the crowd at both outlets was equally sparse.
Plagued with a rash of store closures -- including Kate Spade on Saturday, which vacated the space Emerge will occupy -- O'Neill said Taubman Properties, which controls 27 shopping centers across the country, is using Emerge to test the concept of filling holes with a rotating collection of small, local retailers. If it works as intended, O'Neill said it'll be repeated at other Taubman Properties.
The new Emerge boutique, only open Fridays through Sundays until August, is part of a concerted programming effort to entice shoppers into increasing visits now that the weather is warming.
Boutiques, wineries and entrepreneurs who will occupy Emerge are getting a deal they couldn't refuse -- a mall storefront without the commitment of rent. Emerge businesses will pay a portion of their sales to the center, but otherwise the cost is only their payroll.
Chrissy Fogerty of Fauxgerty, an online startup with a physical shop at 228 North Euclid Avenue, said, "I'm excited to kind of see what happens. It's kind of an experiment, but this seemed like a good way to meet people and expose new customers to our line who likely haven't heard of us before," and wouldn't otherwise stumble upon the shop.
Fauxgerty specializes in mid-priced vegan leather jackets and luxury rebel-with-a-cause cool-girl items that fit the brand's image. Fauxgerty has only signed up for one weekend of Emerge from April 21 to 23, the same weekend as a planned Forever Vintage Market pop-up in the parking lot.
O'Neill said the key to maintaining mall traffic is maintaining momentum and interest, even if more established retailers become unreliable.
"Everyone says Amazon is going to dominate everything, but apparel is different," O'Neill said. "People still want to try on clothing and shoes. It's just different. There are things that don't sell as well on the internet, things like handbags that people want to touch, see and feel."
They just have to keep nudging people to come in and take a look, O'Neill said. There will be weekend events from Memorial Day to Labor Day to generate buzz, and she said they are expecting to close the deal on three new retailers including the teen-oriented Journeys, which will open sometime in May.