Ten years ago it looked as if Crabtree Valley Mall’s glory days were over.
At 30 years old, the mall had lost some of its sheen with the almost back-to-back openings of The Streets at Southpoint in Durham and Triangle Town Center in North Raleigh. In their first months, both siphoned sales from Crabtree; retail analysts were quick to talk about shifting traffic patterns.
Today Crabtree boasts of its position in the top 5 percent of malls nationally in terms of sales per square foot, with average stores sales of $665 per square foot.
Neil Rudolph, vice president of Crabtree’s management company Plaza Associates, puts it succinctly: “We weathered that storm.”
(By comparison, Triangle Town Center had average sales last year of $287 per square foot for non-anchor tenants, according to securities documents. Streets at Southpoint does not release sales information but general manager Pat Anderson said “I can say it’s a very successful center.”)
Rudolph, who is overseeing Crabtree’s 40th anniversary celebration Thursday, says he expects its stores will do more than $450 million in sales this year and half a billion next year. “We fell off a bit in 2008 and 2009 with all the economic problems, but over all we’ve had very good growth,” Rudolph said in an interview this week.
Restaurants help bottom line
Some $50 million of those sales last year came from the mall’s restaurants – a testament to its last expansion in 2008 which added a three-level parking deck, three more restaurants and interior renovations that brought its total store area to 1.4 million square feet.
That renovation was also supposed to include a second story with roughly 74,000 square feet, above the building that houses Barnes & Noble, as well as a pedestrian walkway to the new parking deck. Those plans were put on hold. Rudolph says that while such an expansion is still an option, nothing is planned at this time.
Indeed, any expansion at Crabtree is limited as the mall is landlocked. Rudolph, however, sees the projects being planned around the mall – both a new hotel and new apartment complexes are in the works – as pluses that could deliver more customers.
That’s not to say there isn’t some new construction at Crabtree. The old post office is being remodeled and will house three new tenants. The only one that has signed a lease so far is the Eye Care Center, which is now housed in the building next to the tire center fronting Glenwood Avenue. That building also will be renovated.
But the Triangle’s other malls aren’t standing still.
Streets at Southpoint began what it calls “re-merchandising” earlier this year to mark its 10th anniversary. Those plans include adding 20 new stores this year. Competition between Southpoint and Crabtree, in particular, remains intense with both vying for exclusivity on some stores.
Use of space key to success
All three of the major malls are roughly the same size, but Rudolph says Crabtree’s growth has been helped in part by how it utilizes its space.
“They have more department-store space and we have more mall-shop space,” he said. “That means we have about 50 percent more opportunity for diverse tenants.”
The smaller shops have allowed Crabtree a fair amount of exclusivity as well – with 35 stores exclusive to either the Triangle or the state, Rudolph said.
“That’s very valuable,” said Britt Beemer, who tracks retail trends as founder of the Americas Research Group. “Even though malls have struggled mightily in the last two to five years some have done better because they have more stores where consumers want to shop,” Beemer said.
“Some do a better job at updating and staying contemporary. ... They (Crabtree) have done a good job with their tenant base.”