While some traditional retailers have been severely impacted by internet shopping, Craig Deitelzweig, the president and CEO of Marx Realty, which along with Benenson Capital Partners owns and operates the Cross County Shopping Center in Yonkers, remains upbeat about brick and mortar.
“Oftentimes, we read reports in the media that will indicate that retail is dead or something along those lines. We think what we’re reading sounds like ‘The Twilight Zone’ because our retailers continue to perform better year after year and some of them are the best performing in their whole chain,” he told the Business Journal.
Located on 71 acres of land at the junction of the Cross County Parkway and New York State Thruway (Interstate 87), the shopping center offers 1,073,000 square feet of leasable space. Deitelzweig said the demand for space there continues to be strong and they’re looking at expansion.
“All I can say at this point is that we are studying pretty seriously increasing our footprint based on demand,” he said.
When pressed as to whether he meant actual physical expansion of the site rather than just building something new within the existing footprint, he confirmed that actual physical expansion of the site is what he means.
He minimized any negative impacts from Sears closing its 3-story store at the shopping center in July as part of the chain’s closing of other stores in moves Sears’ management hoped would stabilize its financial situation.
“We look at the Sears closing as an opportunity,” he said. “Lots of retailers have actually been circling the center, wanting to be here, and we just haven’t had the space for these retailers.”
He said there are “cutting-edge” retailers just waiting to come in to the center.
“The likely scenario is we’d have different retailers in that space,” he said. “It’s three stories so we likely will have a mix of 2-story retailers and single-story retailers. I can tell you that we have incredible interest from some of the best retailers out there and we expect to have the space leased in the very short term.”
On Aug. 12, Marx and Benenson jointly announced that three new retailers will be opening at Cross County and a fourth has just committed to a 10-year lease renewal.
The restaurant Mito Asian Fusion has taken 5,000 square feet and plans to open this winter. This will be its second location, in addition to its original location in Forest Hills. The Invicta Watch Company also plans a winter opening in a 963-square-foot space. Carvel Ice Cream plans a fall opening for a 375-square-foot space. The lease renewal is for Bath & Body Works, which has started renovating its 4,100-square-foot location. It will also feature the White Barn Candle Co.
Deitelzweig told the Business Journal that they’ll soon be announcing that a couple of brands primarily known for their internet presence will be opening at the center.
“A lot of these digital brands now want brick and mortar. They want to have an experience with the customers and you can’t have that through the internet,” he said. “Retail is changing in that it’s more experiential, so if you have that experiential offering in the retailer itself, people will come.”
He also compared the experience of going to the open-air shopping center to going to a town center.
“People want that town center experience you can’t get on the internet,” he said.
The internet wasn’t on any shopper’s radar when developer Sol Atlas opened the Cross County Shopping Center in 1954. The original anchor stores were Gimbels, John Wanamaker and F.W. Woolworth. Today’s shoppers will find Macy’s, Old Navy and about 85 other stores and businesses. The Hyatt Place Hotel opened in April 2015 and features 155 guest rooms, meeting space and an indoor pool in its eight stories. The Hyatt building originally had been a hospital complete with a helipad.
“I think the difference between Cross County and some other shopping centers, especially malls, is that we are open air and people really do just want to spend the day there and walk around,” Deitelzweig said.
Marx does not use traffic counters but, based on shopper and market research, estimates that 11 million people visit the Cross County Shopping Center each year and an estimated 224,000 cars pass by the property daily.
“Cross County is blessed with its location and also blessed by the fact that it’s the nation’s first open-air shopping center,” Deitelzweig said. “We believe we are making it even more vibrant and dynamic. There’s more entertainment and we added a children’s play area and we do social events. We have a roller rink and a winter ice skating rink as well.”
Deitelzweig expressed the belief that the purchase of the nearby Empire City Casino and Yonkers Raceway by MGM is a plus for the shopping center because it will attract more people to Yonkers.
While the center underwent a $250 million upgrade and modernization about seven years ago, Deitelzweig said they have plans for additional improvements.
“We have been very concerned about being green, so one of the things we are looking at is some sort of solar aspect in the future,” he said. “We’re investigating doing electric charging stations for cars. We’re also looking at what the future is for the automobile and making sure that we are well programmed for when Uber or some function of it is how people get around. Also, public transportation.”