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These are excerpts from a roundtable discussion sponsored by Incisive Media and Sperry Van Ness. The full text will appear in the November issue of Real Estate New York magazine.

NEW YORK CITY-A combination of tight credit and consumers’ increasing reluctance to open their wallets will make the next 12 to 18 months tough sledding for the retail sector, a panel of experts warned on Monday evening. However, there will be bright spots for operators who are positioned to weather the “turbulent times” cited by moderator Joseph French, national director of retail properties at Sperry Van Ness.

“We’re entering something of a Darwinian period for retail,” said Joshua Podell, vice president of real estate at Jones Apparel Group. He predicted a “very rough” 12 months ahead for retail in general, as did Patrick Breslin, president of the Eastern retail group for Grubb & Ellis. The assessment by Stephen Ifshin, chairman and co-founder of DLC Management Corp., was along similar lines: “Only the strong will survive.” Further shakeout among retailers is ahead of us, he said, and Breslin said this holiday selling season will be make-or-break time for many marginally-performing stores.

“It’s very difficult to stay optimistic in the near term,” said Dan Fasulo, managing director of Real Capital Analytics. Fasulo, whose firm tracks investment sales activity among the commercial asset classes, noted that nationally only 80 retail properties worth more than $5 million changed hands in September. That’s in contrast to the early months of 2007, when upwards of 500 such properties were bought and sold within a four-week period. Unless the housing crisis is worked through, lenders will continue to be hampered, said Gardner Semet, administrative vice president for commercial real estate at M&T Bank.

Leo Ullman, chairman and president of Cedar Shopping Centers, said he expects consumer spending will remain low-key for the next two years. On the other hand, Ullman noted that the supermarket sector, which anchors many of his company’s 120 properties, is performing strongly.

Ifshin expressed doubt that the lending environment seen in 2004 or 2005 will ever return, even after the credit markets normalize. “You need to be able to position yourself in this marketplace to take advantage of opportunities,” he said.

And there will be opportunities to come. Ifshin predicted a “deluge” of product over the next six months, particularly as distressed assets hit the market. Breslin said single-tenant, triple-net-lease deals will be good bets. Podell observed that everybody in retailing needs to work harder and smarter in a recessionary environment. “We’re pushing the envelope on every deal now in terms of taking out risk,” he said.

Even so, Breslin noted that rents, at least in the New York metro area, haven’t fallen off as yet, and the discussion briefly touched upon the prospect of $2,200 per sf for the retail space at 666 Fifth Ave. That figure drew an incredulous response from Ullman. “I can’t relate to those numbers,” he said. “I’m lucky to get $6 per sf from the nail salon.”

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