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(Ian Ritter is national online editor for GlobeSt.com/RETAIL.)

NEW YORK CITY-Plenty of large retailers and retail REITs have changed hands over the last two years, and some industry observers don’t expect that trend to stop any time soon. Speakers on a panel at the International Council of Shopping Centers’ New York National Conference and Deal Making at the Hilton New York & Towers told their audience to expect that more companies will change hands.

“There’s a lot of consolidation yet to happen,” said Robert Michaels, president and CEO of Chicago-based mall owner General Growth Properties. “I don’t think you’ll see a lot of department stores go away. I think you’ll see a lot more consolidation.”

Recent examples of consolidation include Saks Inc.’s sale of its Northern Department Store Group to Bon-Ton Stores and is Southern Department Store Group to Belk. But department stores need to do more than consolidate, Michaels says, they must also find ways to stay relevant and regain the market share that big-box chains have taken away.

Speakers were generally upbeat about retailers and said that the industry is not likely to see a lot of bankruptcies in the near future. “The retailers’ balance sheets are in incredibly good health,” said Jonathan Litt, a retail-REIT analyst at Smith Barney. “I don’t think this is a lights out scenario.”

One concern still facing the industry is the continuation of Wal-Mart and other discounters pushing into the food sector. “I think the supermarket business is definitely one with a lot of concern,” said Emilio Amendola, co-president of Melville-based DJM Asset Management.

Retailers also keep expanding, and are less particular about what type of location they are in–as long as it is the right location. “If you’ve got the best real estate, they’re going to step up to the plate and pay what it takes,” Amendola said.

Earlier in the day a group of retailers revealed their regional and national expansion plans. Target, which has five stores in the New York City limits, has two more in the works, one in Staten Island and a three-level urban location in Brooklyn it is building with locally based Triangle Development. The Minneapolis-based discounter is also looking for more sites.

Anna’s Linens, a Costa Mesa, CA-based home-furnishings retailer that is about to go public, plans to add 60 units to its store base of 215 and enter the Philadelphia market as it spreads into other Eastern cities. Liverpool, NY-based furniture chain Raymour & Flanigan, which operates 59 units in six states, mostly in the Northeast, has plans to expand its New York metro store count by 20 to 25 locations. Wayne, NJ-based Babies “R” Us, a unit of Toys “R” Us, which recently opened its first Manhattan store, is in the works to open 25 to 30 new stores a year, adding to its current, 230 units.

About 6,300 people are registered to attend the convention, up by about 500 from last year. The event ends on Wednesday.

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