NEW ORLEANS-Retailers are still big on lifestyle centers and other open-air developments, speakers here said that the International Council of Shopping Centers’ fall conference. Some said, though, that regional malls are still preferred shopping venues if the development is a market leader.

In the case of apparel retailer Chico’s FAS, which targets women over 35, management found that malls were no longer catering to the demographic it was trying to target, said Michael Elleman, that company’s SVP of real estate. Malls have become more teen-oriented and the parking configurations don’t allow for quick in-and-out shopping. “She doesn’t want to battle the regional mall,” Elleman said in respect to his company’s 580-store chain with just 30% of its units in malls.

However, at the company’s 280-store White House/Black Market concept, which caters to younger women as well as the over-35 age group, half in are malls and half are in open-air developments.

Some developers are trying too hard to force upscale lifestyle centers in areas that don’t have the demographics to support those stores, Elleman said. “I think we need to be very careful in some of the greener areas.”

In the past two years, Ann Taylor Stores has made a bigger effort to enter lifestyle centers, especially with its 464-unit Loft concept, said Nelson Daza, director of lease administration at that apparel chain, which has a similar consumer to Chico’s. At Ann Taylor about half of its stores are in malls, while the other half are in open-air locations.

But Daza still has faith in enclosed venues. “I still believe that our client is looking for a higher-end shopping-mall experience,” he said.

What has changed is what the customer is looking for in that experience. Now venues are expected to have more entertainment choices, such as gourmet grocers, theaters and bookstores, he said.

Times are certainly different than before the 1990s, when lifestyle centers started popping up across the country and regional malls were the main shopping option, observed a partner at Westerville, OH-based consulting firm Asset Strategies Corp. “Retailers had it very easy for 40 years,” he said. “For 40 years, retailers just had to follow developers.”

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