Vacant storefronts becoming more apparent in York Galleria
A handful of patrons dotted the York Galleria food court on a Tuesday just before noon.
Eating their meals from Taco Bell or McDonald's, among others, the group significantly outnumbered those scattered throughout the rest of the mall.
Within their line of vision were store clerks standing alone behind sales counters with nothing to do but wait.
Elderly women used the spaceous structure to walk for exercise.
Numerous opportunities to "LEASE THIS SPACE" were announced by signs in empty storefronts.
Largest among these 13 empty spaces, which account for about 12 percent of non-food court storefronts, is the former home of JCPenney, which closed earlier this year after serving as one of four anchor stores since the Galleria opened in 1989.
The other three — Bon-Ton, Boscov's and Sears — are still in business.
Mall general manager Lucinda Hartshorne said sales have been up since the department store's closing, but foot traffic has been down.
Possibly for sale: CBL & Associates Property Inc. owns the mall, a fact that is readily apparent with the company's name and number plastered throughout the mall under "LEASE THIS SPACE" and "ADVERTISE HERE" signs.
The property was for sale in early 2014, as confirmed by a CBL spokesman, but spokeswoman Stacey Keating cited company policy and declined to confirm whether the property is still for sale.
CBL is the sixth-largest mall owner in the United States by estimated asset value, according to a report compiled by Green Street Advisors, a real estate research and advisory firm, which tracks the mall industry. CBL bought the Galleria, off of Whiteford Road in Springettsbury Township, for $69 million in 1999, and it is currently assessed at about $59.5 million, according to York County records.
Keating did say her company has been looking to either fill the vacancy left by JCPenney or redevelop the space since before the store's closing.
CBL also owns York Town Center, which sits near the Galleria and in which all stores can be entered from an exterior entrance, and was never listed for sale.
National Trend: Enclosed malls struggling for survival is not unique to York.
Since 2010, more than two dozen enclosed shopping malls have been closed and an additional 75 are on the brink, according to Green Street Advisors.
The number may or may not include West Manchester Mall, which is in the process of turning into West Manchester Town Center. The group does not disclose which malls are on the list.
West Manchester Mall's struggles included the closure of one of its anchor stores, Macy's.
Anchor store closures are a telltale sign that a mall is heading toward its doom, according to Anita Rose, an assistant editor for DeadMalls.com, which tracks struggling malls up to their closings.
Fixing the Problem: Rose said malls need to stay up-to-date on consumer trends and constantly add something new to remain competitive in the retail world.
"The thriving malls these days are the ones that offer something truly unique, like the high-end malls are still doing well I've noticed, as most are destination malls — malls that most people have to make a special trip to," she said. "Also malls that know what the retail trends are these days, you know, what is hot, and they react quickly to them."
Green Street's report also indicated that high-end malls are the ones thriving. Higher end anchor stores including Bloomingdales and Nordstrom were appearing at malls with better performance rates than anchor stores including JCPenney and Sears.
Both Rose and the report mentioned online retail as a major problem malls face nowadays.
"Everybody buys things online these days," Rose said.
Despite the empty storefronts, Hartshorne remains optimistic about the Galleria's future.
"We're excited about some of the things being worked on," she said.
—Reach David Weissman at email@example.com.