retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
- “Romeo and Juliet,” by William Shakespeare

Or not.

The Wall Street Journal had a story the other day about how some beleaguered mall owners and operators have decided that the best way to make themselves seem more relevant is to scrub the word “mall” from their titles and subscriptions.

According to the story, “Landlords are expunging the m-word from shopping-center entrances, Facebook pages and corporate materials. Of the 90 regional malls that have undergone renovations since 2014, 17 have removed “mall” from their names, according to property consultancy JLL.”

Among the replacement terms being employed: “lifestyle center” and “retail-dential” space. The Journal writes that “owners of upscale multipurpose leisure-time consumer destinations say a name change is in order, since they have ripped off roofs, planted trees and otherwise reimagined their properties. The centers no longer are rectangular boxes of windowless stores surrounded by rectangles of parking. They now boast gyms, office space and restaurants as well as street lamps, apartments and hotels.”

The Eye-Opening lesson here, it seems to me, is a simple one.

There’s a mall near me, the Stamford Town Center in Stamford, Connecticut. I was talking the other day to my brother, and he said that he went to it exactly once during the holidays, to go to the Williams-Sonoma store there. When I thought about it, I’d only gone to two stores there - Williams-Sonoma and the Apple Store - during the holidays. No other reason to go there. (My brother told me that when he’d been there, Santa and Mrs. Clause were just standing around with nothing to do. I don’t remember seeing a line, so it must’ve been the same when I was there.)

Now, the Stamford Town Center doesn’t have the word “mall” in its name, but that doesn’t mean it is any more relevant or useful. Frankly they could call it anything they want, even Risa - and it wouldn’t be any better.

Change is not just a matter of a name. Especially in this case. I can understand why these owners and operators want to eliminate any mall references from their investments, but that’s just a small first step … because they’ve got to rethink the entire rhyme and reason behind their properties. As consumers change, and competitors evolve, what once was a bed of rose now can be nothing but a patch of thorns.
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