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Never mind Bullock’s — Target is the future of dying malls

Target instead of Bullock’s, Macy’s instead of the Broadway

Horton Plaza - Image by Andy Boyd
Horton Plaza

America’s ubiquitous shopping malls are starting to disappear. It’s not surprising, because the mid-to-lower section of the middle class — many malls’ major market — is vanishing. There is even a website that keeps the grim statistics: www.deadmalls.com.

New York’s Citigroup recently came out with a study saying that some malls are stronger than ever while others are hurting. The difference: some malls, called the “A” centers, sell goods to rich and upper-middle-class folks and are doing swimmingly; “B” and “C” malls, catering to that middle and lower-middle class, are struggling. It’s reflective of wealth and income imbalance. The upper 1 percent is getting the big gains, and the upper middle class is doing well, too, but most of the rest are hurting.

In San Diego, Fashion Valley and Westfield UTC (formerly University Towne Centre), which serve the wealthy, are doing fine. But the county’s inflation-adjusted median household incomes this year will not return to levels of 2005–2009, according to forecasts by National University System. Middle-class malls will battle to survive.

It’s no surprise that according to the California State Board of Equalization, San Diego County’s taxable retail sales have not returned to pre–Great Recession levels. Kelly Cunningham of the National University System predicts that inflation-adjusted sales this year will still lag such sales of 2004–2006. San Diegans suffer the old squeezeroo: incomes are 20 percent above the nation’s, but costs are almost 45 percent higher.

In the nation, and in San Diego County, “the middle class is shrinking,” says Cunningham. He fears that a stiff rise in the minimum wage will result in job eliminations, worsening the plight of the middle class. (Others disagree.)

With the middle class continuing to shrink around the nation, some of the B malls, and many of the C malls, will be “repurposed,” says Citigroup.

And what does it mean to be “repurposed”? For ailing malls, it means being converted into community colleges, hospitals, corporate headquarters, churches, condos, or something else. The malls that may be repurposed, or torn down, are generally the ones whose anchor stores cater to the middle and lower rungs of the middle class and are therefore doing poorly. Among the ailing store chains are Sears, Kmart, Macy’s, and JCPenney. Their earnings are sad. They close stores regularly, and each time they do, another shopping center becomes vulnerable.

About 400 of the nation’s 1100 enclosed malls will shut down in coming years, says Jan Kniffen, a leading retail consultant.

Consultant Howard Davidowitz says as many as half of America’s malls will be gone in 15 to 20 years. The United States is more “overstored” — having more stores per capita — than any place else in the world. The United States has 50 square feet of retail space per person. “The next closest country is England with about ten square feet per person,” says Forbes magazine.

Giddy mall construction went on for decades, creating fat profits for developers and worrisome urban sprawl for communities. But nobody sobered up — often the case in real estate development.

Detached discount stores such as Walmart, Target, and Kohl’s have drawn people away from the malls, but even the three of them have been closing stores. These closings, as well as mergers among large retailers, are major factors making daily newspapers walk the plank, too, as advertising has plunged drastically.

Sending many malls to the electric chair is the internet — particularly the online retailer Amazon. According to the United States Census Bureau, e-commerce sales in the first quarter of this year were 7.8 percent of total retail sales. Sales in the first quarter of this year were up 15.2 percent from the same quarter of last year.

Such statistics frighten financial firms that have loaned money to shopping centers and/or their tenants. As Bloomberg pointed out in a headline last month, “America’s Dying Shopping Malls Have Billions in Debt Coming Due.” Bank of America Merrill Lynch says that about $47.5 billion of loans backed by retail properties will be maturing over the next year and a half.

“Lenders are tightening their purse strings as unease surrounding the future of shopping centers grows, with bleak earnings forecasts from retailers including Macy’s Inc. and Nordstrom Inc., and bankruptcy filings by chains such as Aeropostale Inc. and Sports Authority Inc.,” says Bloomberg.

Nordstrom at Horton Plaza

In San Diego, Nordstrom recently announced that it is leaving the downtown Westfield Horton Plaza after 31 years. “We’re just not getting the business that we need to get out of it,” says Jamie Nordstrom, president.

Mainstream media keep chanting that downtown’s Horton Plaza is a success story, but the opposite is true: it has been a flop. Big anchor stores began moving out not long after it opened in the mid-1980s.

Many malls are lowering their demographic targets. Grossmont Center in La Mesa once had Bullock’s, Buffums, and the Broadway appealing to the carriage trade and Montgomery Ward aiming at middle incomes. All are gone. Discounter Target snatched the Bullock’s site. Walmart moved into the Montgomery Ward space. Ailing Macy’s took over the Broadway. Buffums closed down and Oshman’s Supersports, now Sports Authority, occupied the site. Sports Authority has gone into bankruptcy and is liquidating all its stores. Future anchors presumably will be Macy’s, Target, Walmart, and whatever replaces Sports Authority. (Grossmont refused to give information on how it will replace Sports Authority.)

Cunningham thinks some San Diego malls will die in the next ten years. “Many retail centers will continue to struggle unless they can find their own specialized niche,” he says.

A San Diego retailing expert, who didn’t want to be named, says, “Class B and Class C malls are going to die off. Millennials [roughly, those age 14 to 34] today go to Amazon. They don’t believe in spending a lot of money on clothes.” Many are laden with huge debts from their college days. “There’s not a lot of discretionary income in this kind of environment. And then there is the disparity between upper-class and lower-class incomes.”

The retailers appealing to middle-income people will continue to have trouble.

“Stores are in disarray, dreary, it’s not pleasant to be there. Look at Sears, JCPenney, Macy’s — that’s why developers are putting money in Class A malls.”

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Horton Plaza - Image by Andy Boyd
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America’s ubiquitous shopping malls are starting to disappear. It’s not surprising, because the mid-to-lower section of the middle class — many malls’ major market — is vanishing. There is even a website that keeps the grim statistics: www.deadmalls.com.

New York’s Citigroup recently came out with a study saying that some malls are stronger than ever while others are hurting. The difference: some malls, called the “A” centers, sell goods to rich and upper-middle-class folks and are doing swimmingly; “B” and “C” malls, catering to that middle and lower-middle class, are struggling. It’s reflective of wealth and income imbalance. The upper 1 percent is getting the big gains, and the upper middle class is doing well, too, but most of the rest are hurting.

In San Diego, Fashion Valley and Westfield UTC (formerly University Towne Centre), which serve the wealthy, are doing fine. But the county’s inflation-adjusted median household incomes this year will not return to levels of 2005–2009, according to forecasts by National University System. Middle-class malls will battle to survive.

It’s no surprise that according to the California State Board of Equalization, San Diego County’s taxable retail sales have not returned to pre–Great Recession levels. Kelly Cunningham of the National University System predicts that inflation-adjusted sales this year will still lag such sales of 2004–2006. San Diegans suffer the old squeezeroo: incomes are 20 percent above the nation’s, but costs are almost 45 percent higher.

In the nation, and in San Diego County, “the middle class is shrinking,” says Cunningham. He fears that a stiff rise in the minimum wage will result in job eliminations, worsening the plight of the middle class. (Others disagree.)

With the middle class continuing to shrink around the nation, some of the B malls, and many of the C malls, will be “repurposed,” says Citigroup.

And what does it mean to be “repurposed”? For ailing malls, it means being converted into community colleges, hospitals, corporate headquarters, churches, condos, or something else. The malls that may be repurposed, or torn down, are generally the ones whose anchor stores cater to the middle and lower rungs of the middle class and are therefore doing poorly. Among the ailing store chains are Sears, Kmart, Macy’s, and JCPenney. Their earnings are sad. They close stores regularly, and each time they do, another shopping center becomes vulnerable.

About 400 of the nation’s 1100 enclosed malls will shut down in coming years, says Jan Kniffen, a leading retail consultant.

Consultant Howard Davidowitz says as many as half of America’s malls will be gone in 15 to 20 years. The United States is more “overstored” — having more stores per capita — than any place else in the world. The United States has 50 square feet of retail space per person. “The next closest country is England with about ten square feet per person,” says Forbes magazine.

Giddy mall construction went on for decades, creating fat profits for developers and worrisome urban sprawl for communities. But nobody sobered up — often the case in real estate development.

Detached discount stores such as Walmart, Target, and Kohl’s have drawn people away from the malls, but even the three of them have been closing stores. These closings, as well as mergers among large retailers, are major factors making daily newspapers walk the plank, too, as advertising has plunged drastically.

Sending many malls to the electric chair is the internet — particularly the online retailer Amazon. According to the United States Census Bureau, e-commerce sales in the first quarter of this year were 7.8 percent of total retail sales. Sales in the first quarter of this year were up 15.2 percent from the same quarter of last year.

Such statistics frighten financial firms that have loaned money to shopping centers and/or their tenants. As Bloomberg pointed out in a headline last month, “America’s Dying Shopping Malls Have Billions in Debt Coming Due.” Bank of America Merrill Lynch says that about $47.5 billion of loans backed by retail properties will be maturing over the next year and a half.

“Lenders are tightening their purse strings as unease surrounding the future of shopping centers grows, with bleak earnings forecasts from retailers including Macy’s Inc. and Nordstrom Inc., and bankruptcy filings by chains such as Aeropostale Inc. and Sports Authority Inc.,” says Bloomberg.

Nordstrom at Horton Plaza

In San Diego, Nordstrom recently announced that it is leaving the downtown Westfield Horton Plaza after 31 years. “We’re just not getting the business that we need to get out of it,” says Jamie Nordstrom, president.

Mainstream media keep chanting that downtown’s Horton Plaza is a success story, but the opposite is true: it has been a flop. Big anchor stores began moving out not long after it opened in the mid-1980s.

Many malls are lowering their demographic targets. Grossmont Center in La Mesa once had Bullock’s, Buffums, and the Broadway appealing to the carriage trade and Montgomery Ward aiming at middle incomes. All are gone. Discounter Target snatched the Bullock’s site. Walmart moved into the Montgomery Ward space. Ailing Macy’s took over the Broadway. Buffums closed down and Oshman’s Supersports, now Sports Authority, occupied the site. Sports Authority has gone into bankruptcy and is liquidating all its stores. Future anchors presumably will be Macy’s, Target, Walmart, and whatever replaces Sports Authority. (Grossmont refused to give information on how it will replace Sports Authority.)

Cunningham thinks some San Diego malls will die in the next ten years. “Many retail centers will continue to struggle unless they can find their own specialized niche,” he says.

A San Diego retailing expert, who didn’t want to be named, says, “Class B and Class C malls are going to die off. Millennials [roughly, those age 14 to 34] today go to Amazon. They don’t believe in spending a lot of money on clothes.” Many are laden with huge debts from their college days. “There’s not a lot of discretionary income in this kind of environment. And then there is the disparity between upper-class and lower-class incomes.”

The retailers appealing to middle-income people will continue to have trouble.

“Stores are in disarray, dreary, it’s not pleasant to be there. Look at Sears, JCPenney, Macy’s — that’s why developers are putting money in Class A malls.”

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Comments
55

Nice summary of stats & considered opinions, Don.

I often go years without seeing the inside of a mall or major store. Now with Amazon coming to my door, and bulk groceries from Costco & Smart & Final, I rarely leave home. The 'brick and mortar' retail vendors will have to re-evaluate their future.

But I was speaking with some women the other day who love to shop. For them fashion is what they live for; seeing, touching and trying on clothing is very important. There is also a social aspect that appeals to some people.

July 27, 2016

swell: "Shop 'til you drop" is a a pithy bit of advice used mainly by upper-income women. Identifying one's self as a "mall girl" is another. Economists love "Shop 'til you drop" because consumption is 71 percent of gross domestic product, Buy! Buy! Buy! to please the economics profession.

But I keep thinking of all the money shelled out for those dresses, shoes, yachts, sports cars that ought to be going to rebuild our infrastructure. It won't happen as along as the upper 1 percent corrals almost all the income growth.

In the old days, economists scorned "conspicuous consumption" as a misdirection of national income. Not now. Economists encourage it. Best, Don Bauder

July 27, 2016

Infrastructure could be rebuilt by trimming our immense military budget which funds such amenities as swimming pools at the United States' Incirlik airbase in Turkey. The LA Times recently ran a story describing that well-provisioned and strategic outpost from which we bomb the daylights out of Isis in Syria. But all American dependents have been evacuated from the base since it is is in such a tenuous location and Turkey itself has just thwarted an attempted military coup.

July 27, 2016

monaghhan: At the risk of offending San Diego economists who point out that the military is 20 percent of the local economy, I agree with you. Military spending should be cut; the money should go into infrastructure all across the land. Best, Don Bauder

July 28, 2016

Marvin Harrison: Good point, but I don't think it will ever get to that. You mention Apple stores. People have to go into the stores, and play with the merchandise, and ask questions of the many salespeople. I have been in big malls where the Apple store was the only store that was packed. Most others were almost empty.Best, Don Bauder

July 27, 2016

Hil Anderson: Costco, developed by a student of San Diego's Sol Price, is one of the great retail establishments in the world. Actually, the originator of the concept, Price Company, wound up under the control of Costco. So the state of Washington stole a big employer from San Diego.

I have been told by insiders that Costco's de facto takeover of Price Co. was a matter of excellent management: Costco had it, Price couldn't keep up with it. Price is now doing very well in Latin America, however. Best, Don Bauder

July 27, 2016

Don, the main difference between the philosophy of Price and Sinegal, was real estate. Sol (as well as Robert) were interested in buying and developing centers - and owning the land. They liked being their own best tenant. They could also control their business neighbors and the mix of retail around them. So Price Clubs were rolled out slowly as locations and land deals were developed.

Sinegal and his backer, Jeff Brotman, rolled out their warehouses much faster by finding land to lease. Without the distraction of center development, just their own footprints, they deployed rapidly. Before the merger, the Costco in Kearny Mesa opened and that's the view many people saw from the Price Club accounting offices on Convoy Court.

I went through that "merger" and left Seattle (Issaquah) after a few years. When the two powers, began sorting out their differences, they decided to let the Price family take the real estate (that's when the Price REIT was formed) and the retail would go to Costco. Price reserved the rights to develop small warehouses, mostly in small countries in the western hemisphere, that became PriceSmart.

July 27, 2016

Ponzi: And both PriceSmart and Costco are doing well. Best, Don Bauder

July 28, 2016

Francie Dunn: I used to drive the 8 every day -- twice. Best, Don Bauder

July 27, 2016

On the topic, I just don't like going to malls. I'd shop for clothing and shoes about once a year. Since 1988, I have been a happy customer of Amazon and a "prime" member. I buy almost everything online, even ordering groceries. I have bought clothing from Macy's online. One thing I make sure I do is buy from places that have generous return policies, like Amazon, Costco, Home Depot. Nothing is worse than having to pay some "restocking fee."

Amazon has a smartphone app where you can scan the UPC code on a product and see what the Amazon price is. I think what is happening at a lot of mall stores is they are victims of "showrooming" where shoppers go out an look at products in person, maybe get a salesperson to answer some questions, then go home and order it online.

Your story is very accurate of what has happened to two malls in San Diego. College Grove once had 85 stores, now it has about a dozen. With Sam's Club, Walmart, Target and Kohls as anchors. Over at Grossmont, most upscale and boutique retailers have left with Walmart, Target and the now defunct Sports Authority. According to news reports, the Cushman family is planning for major changes at and around Grossmont Center.

July 27, 2016

I made an error. I've been shopping from Amazon since 1998 (not 1988). In the 18 years I have been buying from them, and that is hundreds of items, I have never had to call them on the phone. Maybe, once... but I don't remember. Usually you can do all different sorts of transactions without their help. If you do need help, they can handle it quickly with an email or instant message.

The thing about Amazon is they are so far ahead of everybody else in logistics, partners, web development, server capacity.... and they have the warehouse robots (Kiva, they bought the manufacturer)... it's going to be very difficult for others to catch up.

This week Amazon entered into an agreement with the UK government to begin testing their delivery 'drones' for small packages (starting off at up to 5 lbs.) in a 30 minute window.

July 27, 2016

Ponzi: Amazon has revolutionized shopping. Now they have to prove they can make sturdy, steady profits doing so. Best, Don Bauder

July 28, 2016

Ponzi: There is a question about Grossmont: was the neighborhood around that center really affluent enough to support Bullock's and Buffums? East County is not an area of affluence. Best, Don Bauder

July 28, 2016

As I recall, the Grossmont Center in the 60's, 70' and 80's was host to more upscale stores. There was College Grove that was a pedestrian offering. The only major players during the Grossmont ere were Mission Valley.

Plaza Bonita, Oceanside and La Jolla came later in the 80's as the North County and South Bay developed. Horton Plaza gave very good rent terms to Nordstrom to attract them there. Dig deep enough and you will probably find the 30 year lease is not offered at an attractive price to Nordstrom.

Also, Nordstrom suffers from an all to familiar problem of management. They remind me of Kaypro. Too many Nordstroms and and enough pros.

July 28, 2016

Ponzi: Oh yes. Grossmont Center from the 1960s to 1980s had more upscale stores. But there wasn't enough disposable income in the area to support such stores.

Bullock's was a victim of the takeover movement that dominated the 1980s. Buffums went out of business. It had not kept up with its market. Its stores were old and poorly located. It died of management incompetence, to a great extent.

But Grossmont did not replace Buffums with a store appealing to an upscale market. Ditto Bullock's. Best, Don Bauder

July 30, 2016

Ponzi: For some time, retailers have battled the problem of shoppers eyeing merchandise in the store, then going home and ordering it online. Best, Don Bauder

July 31, 2016

About twenty years ago there was an analysis of retail space per capita in the US. One conclusion was that it had increased five-fold from 1945 until about a half-century later. Now that doesn't sound like a bad thing, and may have just reflected a rising affluence. On the other hand, it meant that retailing was far less efficient, space-wise, than it had been earlier. There is good reason to think that growth of those regional malls and many, many community centers had built excessive space. We can probably assume that the growth and expansion of the "big box" operators since that study has exacerbated the situation. With all this on-line buying, that per capita space has to be at or near a peak, and will now decline.

Centers of all sorts and sizes on the fringes of cities needed massive amounts of parking. Where the developers didn't provide "enough" of it, the city governments demanded huge amounts. A free standing retail store in most of this state was required to have about three times as much parking lot space as it did building floor space. Yet few ever filled their lots! Urban/suburban sprawl? That was one reason for it.

Today I still hear of plans for developing property with more retail space, even when there is scads of vacant space on the same street a few blocks away. What are they thinking about, especially when the rents are so high that many otherwise-viable operations cannot afford them and still make a profit?

The most recent bit of craziness was the proposal to build a mall in Carlsbad on the south shore of Agua Hedionda lagoon and put a Nordstrom there as the anchor. Just a couple miles to the north, the old regional mall is dying on the vine. I'd venture that Nordy's could have gotten a much better deal from Westfield to go take space in the old mall than Caruso was offering. Some intelligent, for a change, Carlsbad voters defeated that plan at the ballot box. If it had gone forward, it would meant that Nordstrom was trading a location in downtown SD for one in coastal No County. But I suspect that Nordy's is looking hard at the Escondido store because that center no longer resembles the place it was when it opened about thirty years ago. Escondido isn't getting richer; the opposite is the case.

July 27, 2016

Nordstrom won't take space in the existing Carlsbad mall. Probably they don't want their brand associated with an outdated mall whose stores have either gone out of business or are on the verge of doing so. Which may also be the reason they left Horton Plaza.

July 27, 2016

A recent story in Fortune suggests that 25% of all department stores need to close (800 stores, with Sears needing to shut 300) for sales per square foot to go back to 2006 levels. The story goes on to say Nordstrom needs to close 30 and concentrate on the "Rack" stores.

Nordstrom may have been relieved when the voters rejected that mall in Carlsbad.

July 27, 2016

Matt, you're probably right about Nordstrom's motivations. Ponzi, I agree that there are STILL too many department stores nationally, even after the loss of so many chains in recent years. But if 800 more close, that will kill several hundred malls, unless they find a way to operate malls that have no anchor stores.

Nordstrom should have been relieved, but I doubt they were. Don't expect logic from many retailers when it comes to location analysis.

July 27, 2016

Visduh: Don't be surprised if a large number of retailers, and therefore malls, close down. Best, Don Bauder

July 28, 2016

Ponzi: I read a lot of stories in preparing this column, but I missed the one in Fortune. However, those numbers are consistent with what others were saying. Best, Don Bauder

July 28, 2016

Matt101: I don't know if that is the case with Nordstrom in Carlsbad, but I do know that upscale retailers don't want to be in shabby malls, or next to shabby stores. Best, Don Bauder

July 28, 2016

Visduh: Another topic needs to be covered. Over and over, malls are subsidized by local governments. But the subsidized malls are just taking sales and sales tax receipts from nearby cities. For the metro area, it is a zero sum game. The subsidization of shopping centers is not as repugnant as the subsidization of sports teams owned by billionaires, but it is corporate welfare that we could do without. Best, Don Bauder

July 28, 2016

Great headline!

I'm not sure how brick-and-mortars will compete with Amazon long term unless they also have strong online presences. Amazon's distribution system is clearly highly efficient and difficult to compete with.

I'm not sure Marvin Harrison's vision will completely come true but I would think things will trend that way. For anything that I don't need within a day personally I usually just go right to Amazon. For me I think it's a waste of gas and time to actually go into a store and buy something when I can just buy it online in a couple of minutes.

I think brick-and-mortars need to evolve somehow but time will tell what they evolve into.

July 27, 2016

ImJustABill: The business plan is to let UPS and FedEx waste gas delivering online merchandise. I am sure you pay for that in the price of goods, however. Best, Don Bauder

July 28, 2016

I haven't seen an analysis, but it would seem to me that UPS and FedEx use much less gas per item delivering than an individual driver going to the mall would use to buy the item.

July 29, 2016

ImJustABill: In most cases, probably the lone shopper wastes more gas buying goods than FedEx and UPS do delivering the items. But there are some people who shop for two weeks' worth of food, clothes, etc. They may spend less. Best, Don Bauder

July 29, 2016

We have a REIT that's divesting. We will lose money. Same thing happened a few years ago with another REIT. We're still writing off the losses.

Shell-games.

July 27, 2016

Flapper: REITs that specialize in retail may have a lot of trouble in coming years. Best, Don Bauder

July 28, 2016

The one we have is into office space. I predicted long ago that that was going to be hurtin' too. The one that screwed us a few years ago was into retail.

July 29, 2016

Flapper: Various kinds of REITs have had trouble. I don't know of the office space REIT. I got bonked in a retail REIT, too, if that give you any comfort. Best, Don Bauder

July 30, 2016

Don, were you or one of the quoted in the story recently on an L.A. radio station's business show (I think KNX?) discussing this in the last week or two? Sounds almost identical to the great info shared.

The only time I go to a mall is to see Santa. Every year at Fashion Valley since boys were born. Now 15 and 18 (and they still comply with parent's request to smile.)

July 28, 2016

Ken Harrison: Nope. I haven't been on an LA radio station for years. Best, Don Bauder

July 28, 2016

Great article Don (as usual)!! I believe Target might be too pricey for the future Mass-Class, think Dollar Trees and 99 Cents Stores going where the Targets fail.

July 28, 2016

Darren: I am not sure I agree. When I have gone into those stores I have been quite disappointed with the merchandise selection. Best, Don Bauder

July 28, 2016

Hi Don, I agree, my statement was mostly an sarcastic exaggeration full of pessimism about our economy and future. Though I do admit you can save some good money at 99 Cents Store on some name brand items, just ask my cat. :o)

July 29, 2016

Darren: Please give me the phone number and email address of your cat. Best, Don Bauder

July 31, 2016

Teddy Rodosovich: I don't know about "refitted." But torn down and replaced by a stadium and parking might be feasible. A teardown along with the annexation of more land might work. Best, Don Bauder

July 29, 2016

Shimizu Randall: Your idea should be explored, along with Teddy Rodosovich's. Best. Don Bauder

July 29, 2016

Carlo Lapu-lapu: I can't imagine that Bezos is a communist. He bought the Washington Post. It did NOT turn communist. If anything, it is more capitalist. Best. Don Bauder

July 29, 2016

One thing that needs to change for Amazon is that homes need to have large locked delivery boxes to accommodate package delivery without risk of theft.

I'm surprised this isn't standard in new home construction yet.

July 29, 2016

They have those in the UK. Some even have refrigerated compartments.

Amazon does have package lockers at many 7/11 and Circle K stores. You specify what locker location to send your package. Since Amazon and the Postal Service partner on last-mile delivery, I wonder why they have not struck a deal to use the post office lockers. That's another revenue stream the USPS could get by using their PO Box lockers for Amazon packages.

July 29, 2016

Ponzi: I was not aware of those Amazon lockers. Best, Don Bauder

July 29, 2016

Yes - the 7/11 boxes work great but not all 7/11's have them so you might have to drive several miles to get to one. It does seem like USPS should offer that service as well.

July 30, 2016

ImJustABill: I agree with you on that point. Homes should have locked boxes for deliveries. Best, Don Bauder

July 29, 2016

Mike Murphy: Such big spenders still go to malls. Best, Don Bauder

July 29, 2016

the malls I've seen in what we consider poor countries put our's to shame in size and design.

July 30, 2016

Murphyjunk: One wonders if they are owned by American entrepreneurs. Best, Don Bauder

July 30, 2016

Chinese investment

Aug. 1, 2016

Thomas K. Arnold: Those are kind words coming from another journalist. Best, Don Bauder

July 30, 2016

Phillip Franklin: Those are wise words. I suspect you may be an economist. So many brick and mortar developers poured so much money into malls for so many years. Now, we realize that they aren't going to get the number of years they expected.

Let me give some examples of this shift from my own life (which has droned on for 80 years.) I lived in a Chicago suburb. A large number of Sears executives lived there. Many died young of heart attacks. Back then, Sears was considered godlike. It was a juggernaut that could not be slowed down. I remember contributing two Business Week cover stories on how great Sears was. The last such story might have been circa 1970. But Sears executives weren't the miracle workers everyone thought they were.

Sears dropped out of the catalog business right at the time online catalogs were coming to the forefront. Sears had a huge slug of the retail appliance market. But when the manufacturing of those items moved overseas, Sears lost its retail near-monopoly. Sears didn't see Wal-Mart or Kmart coming, and then didn't adjust.

Look how many malls had Sears as an anchor tenant. Frankly, I don't think Sears will make it. If you had told me that 40 or 50 years ago, I would have said you needed to see a psychiatrist. Best, Don Bauder

July 30, 2016

Sears made many strategic errors over the past few decades, and brought itself to this point where its very survival is in doubt. As recently as the late 70's it was still seen as invincible, and it went out and decided to diversify itself into consumer financial services. It bought Dean Witter, the brokerage firm, and Coldwell Banker, the real estate broker. Then it started its own bank/finance company and branded its own credit card (Discover Card.) Sears combined those pieces with its true crown jewel, Allstate Insurance, and tried to make money selling services to the same customer base as it had for its retail stores. But for some reason, it bailed out on the very thing that was its founding business, mail order. That came on the heels of J C Penney actually going into the mail order catalog business a few years before. (Penney was copying everything Sears had and did for a long time.)

When times turned tough for Sears it decided that it had to get back to its retail roots, and started selling off peripheral divisions to raise cash. And so, it divested itself of Allstate, Dean Witter, Coldwell Banker, and even the credit cards to that it could "concentrate on retailing." To me that looked like selling the best parts of the corporation to spend on the weakest part. Did it work? The record says a resounding "NO", in that Sears has been into bankruptcy, and it actually was KMart that bought it out of BK, changing the corporate name to Sears Holdings.

Sears had a couple lines with ultra-strong brand identity and reputations. One was the Kenmore line of "white goods" appliances. Even those who knew that Whirlpool Corp made the Kenmore washers, etc. often would go to Sears anyway because Kenmore was "better." Then there is Craftsman tools. At one time there was one and only one place to buy them, and that was Sears. Now you can buy them at Ace Hardware, and I've seen Craftsman tool sets at Costco. If you are struggling with customer loyalty and trying to survive, does that make any sense? Oh, does it make sense to sell the other guys' tools in your store, right alongside your own brand? Sears does. I've seen DeWalt power tools there.

One final piece of total strangeness on the part of Sears was the purchase of Lands' End, a mail order operation back in 2002, for which it paid $2 billion. After abandoning the catalog business in the 80's, it reverses field and gets back into it. Ahh, but that didn't work out so well, and two years ago, Lands' End was spun off to Sears shareholders, and is now independent again.

July 31, 2016

Visduh: There is one thing Sears does well: collect corporate welfare. In the 1960s, Sears built one of the tallest buildings in the world in the heart of Chicago on Michigan Avenue. That was when Sears was invincible. Then Sears began having trouble and threatened to leave Illinois. The state-- then as now in grave financial shape -- gave the company a $168 million subsidy to move to the western suburbs.

Sears showed its thanks by laying off a huge number of people right after it got the money. (Politicians had defended the gift because it would create jobs.) in 2012, Sears was right back at it. It threatened to move outside Illinois. The state -- this time pathetically broke -- coughed up $275 million to keep the company.

Keep it for what? It is already a candidate for bankruptcy. Best, Don Bauder

July 31, 2016

John Jusko: Is Macy's really a high end store? Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 1, 2016

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