The department store Kohl’s announced it is closing stores in three Atlanta area locations this year: in Roswell, Lithonia and Dekalb County.
The Dekalb County Kohl’s is an anchor tenant for the struggling Northlake Mall.
Some developers say the success of future malls is now less about anchor tenants and more about customer experience.
Tony Ruggeri, president of the development firm ATR Corinth Partners in Dallas, said the popularity of building expensive, large indoor malls, had its peak in the 1980s. Now, people want to socialize in more open, dynamic retail spaces like Atlanta’s Ponce City Market or Krog Street.
“Retail development is far more diverse today than it was 20 or 30 years ago,” Ruggeri said. “Twenty years ago, you had maybe two or three ways to approach the market from a development standpoint, enclosed malls being one of them. Today you have a wide range. As you drive around Atlanta, you look at so many different concepts. The one consistent part of what works is the project has to match a neighborhood. It’s hard to reposition an old brick warehouse in a part of Atlanta that doesn’t have brick warehouses.”
Ruggeri’s company bought Northlake Mall in February to redevelop what he calls an “unpolished jewel.” He said he thinks right now the mall doesn’t reflect the demographics of the North Dekalb County residents who live near it.
“We have a pretty good feeling for who lives and shops in the Northlake Mall area from mainly a demographic standpoint,” Ruggeri said. “What we want to do is ultimately have Northlake Mall become a project that is just a mirror of the Northlake market.”
Ruggeri said his firm is working to hire architects and is still in the early stages of research and deciding which retailers it wants to attract, but one idea on the table is to make it into an open air market.
“Typically the mall is the economic driver for a section of town and if the mall’s struggling, then the whole area tends to struggle so by redoing the mall properly, we’ve rejuvenated parts of the city,” Ruggeri said. “People who lived in that community all of the sudden start shopping there because they have type of retail that matched what their lifestyle, age, income levels was. It revitalizes an area and adds value all around.”
Two years ago, the new owners of North Dekalb Mall had said they were looking to convert it back into an open air shopping complex similar to what it looked like when it first opened in the 1960s.
Kohl’s said employees in the stores that are closing can accept a severance package or choose to relocate to a nearby store.