Site unseen

Carole Sloan, January 29, 2001

This was a year that really began at the very tail end of the previous one, with two major retail bankruptcies and closures, followed very shortly by another bankruptcy victim earlier this month that everyone hopes will be a survivor.

But the interesting thing is that as these events took place, the marketplace was full of buzz that this retailer or that retailer was hovering over sites being abdicated by the fallen.

Even after a decade of the so-called pundits declaring how over-stored America is, the store acquisition beat goes on. Virtually every retailer-from A to Z-is looking for sites.

So now with the couple of hundred Montgomery Ward stores that will be on the market, and the 100-plus Bradlees stores in a similar position, the word is circulating that JCPenney is eyeing some of these sites, perhaps even in a double dance with Federated, whose Goldsmith and Lazarus divisions would fit some of the demographics of the closed-down businesses.

And real estate pundits say Dillard's is having similar thoughts-perhaps to enhance its stable of Mercantile stores acquired in the 1990s.

And Sears' new ceo Alan Lacy has been quite specific that there are a plenitude of Montgomery Ward sites that would fit within that giant retailer's game plan.

Of course few have stopped to take into consideration what is happening in the malls where the multi-cineplex formats are bailing out at a fast and furious pace.

But look at the financial pages today and it's clear that these glory-filled expansionists now are part of the problem-too much exposure and not enough consumer interest.

And goodness knows what will happen when every corner of the universe is populated with a Starbucks.

Maybe it's time to let these spaces go as retail sites or transform them into something wonderfully special or create a community center that would enhance the community.

The pull of the big guys is a major magnet for local areas. It will be a challenge for the retailers and the communities that want to grow and thrive.

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