The retail industry capped 2012 with reportedly the weakest holiday sales growth since 2008. According to MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse, between October and December sales increased 0.7 percent compared with a 2 percent increase last year. In Westchester, some anticipated those numbers would be a bit better, in part due to the most recent addition to the retail landscape, Ridge Hill. The outdoor shopping center marked 2012 by celebrating its first full year in operation.
At 1 Ridge Hill Road in Yonkers, the shopping mecca sits on 81 acres with 1.3 million square feet of retail space, which so far has 75 percent occupancy. The mixed residential and commercial complex has tenants, including Whole Foods Market, REI, National Amusements Inc.’s Cinema de Lux, Dick’s Sporting Goods, L.L.Bean, The Cheesecake Factory, and WESTMED Medical Group.
Two of the complex’s flagship stores, Lord & Taylor, which opened in April, and T.J. Maxx, settled into Ridge Hill hoping to benefit from its fresh design as an open-air shopping plaza. Aries Deitch & Endelson Inc. brokered the deal that landed T.J. Maxx in Ridge Hill.
Martin Deitch, a partner in the Hartsdale firm, said although the site is a “work in progress” they are convinced it will be a popular retail site. “It takes time; it’s like a painting being painted, like a piece of art,” Deitch said. “When the sales indicators come out I think everybody will pleased.”
Although the final numbers for the year in retail aren’t in, Ridge Hill developer Forest City Ratner reportedly estimated more than $20 million in annual sales and income tax revenue from the complex. That still promises to be a significant contribution to the county sales tax revenue. In Westchester, those receipts totaled more than $411 million as of Nov. 30. That’s up from $403 million last year around the same time.
Much of that revenue is generated by the store clusters, most notably malls and shopping plazas like Ridge Hill and the newly revamped Cross County Shopping Center at 800 Mall Walk in Yonkers. But small shops contributed as well.
One of the main shopping destinations for those who avoided the malls this year was Central Avenue, the strip that runs from Yonkers up to White Plains. Salvatore D’Errico and his family have run D’Errico’s Log Cabin Jewelers at 509 Central Ave. in Greenburg since the 1990s and have benefitted from the shopping tradition Central Avenue consumers seem committed to.
D’Errico said Westchester shoppers “do want to shop local,” but added the customer has changed in the past four years. “We’re here 15 years (and) the customer is a little bit more finicky,” he said. “They are looking for more of a relationship and taking more care while shopping. It’s been happening since 2008.”
D’Errico said the change in customer has translated into a more conscious shopper – one who isn’t as “reckless with their credit card,” adheres to a budget and shops with a purpose. And although small shops have struggled through the economic downturn, he said many have been able to adjust by focusing on client needs.
“The mom and pop shops like the clothing store right up the block from us, you go in there and buy a pair of pants, the guy who owns the place is fantastic, they offer something to drink, it’s just a different feel,” said D’Errico. The family actually considered moving their jewelry shop into Ridge Hill, but decided it wasn’t necessary because D’Errico’s was up from last year and they want to believe it’s in part due the reputation of Central Avenue.
Overall, the retail industry is still trying to regroup after the holiday sales slide. ShopperTrak, a retail technology company that tracks shoppers and analyzes data, forecasts holiday sales for the months of November and December will increase by about 2.5 percent over last year, which is down from its September estimate of 3.3 percent. The company lowered its expectation after evaluating several factors, including the impact of Hurricane Sandy.
Deitch said he remains optimistic, believing the emergence of Ridge Hill and renovation of Cross County will ultimately help “revitalize” the retail industry in the county.