Empire Mall on a good pace for 2021 as public should watch for Dillard’s announcement, general manager says

KELOLAND.com Original
KELO Empire Mall

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The Empire Mall doesn’t track foot traffic anymore but it does track sales.

“There’s nothing better than sales because sales is king,” said Dan Gies, the general manager of the mall.

And the sales numbers tracked through May have been better than good, Gies said.

Gies said Empire retailers are posting sales increases of 11%, 19% and up to 84% over 2019.

“One of our top five producing stores is up 40% over 2019 for May,” Gies said. “That’s been a common theme for the past four or five months.”

The numbers are compared to 2019 because of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 which dramatically impacted and distorted retail sales.

The sales numbers are not just a blip on the scale, Gies said.

“This is a great trend going forward. We don’t see this a one or two month short-term performance,” Gies said.

The good trend will include an expected announcement about Dillard’s coming to the mall, Gies said.

empire mall

The Empire Mall, owned by the Simon Property Group, just announced the addition of the retailer Anthropologie which is due to arrive before Thanksgiving.

The new addition will fill a vacancy beside Coach and across from Aerie by American Eagle Outfitters.

Camille’s will soon join the food court to fill another vacancy.

Gies said company policy prohibits him from sharing the number of vacant store fronts in the mall, the occupancy rate or the square footage of vacant space.

He did say the mall had about 110 stores which includes specialty leases and permanent leases.

A specialty lease could include a local retail with a kiosk, he said.

A map of the mall and surrounding area. Map courtesy of the Empire Mall.

A map of the mall shows at least eight vacancies as well as the two vacant anchor spaces.

One of those anchor store spots could be filled by Dillard’s, an Arkansas based retailer.

“Sioux Falls can expect an announcement on that some time this summer,” Gies said.

Younkers and Sears announced closures in 2018.

Gap and Banana Republic closed in August 2020. Gap officials released a statement that said the coronavirus pandemic was one of the reasons.

Vacant store space does not indicate poor mall health, said Nathan Sanderson, the executive director of the South Dakota Retailers Association.

“It’s natural that malls will have stores turnover. That’s not unique,” Sanderson said.

Turnover can be more about the retailer’s business plan that doesn’t fit anymore than about the mall itself, Gies said.

“Overall, the Simon Group had tried to move past Sears for the past five years,” Gies said. Simon Group wanted to move the unsuccessful retailer from an anchor position in malls for a better retailer or redevelopment, Gies said.

Dillard’s would be an example of a successful retailer that is growing, Gies said.

It’s also not unusual for the public to “lament the loss of store X,” without thinking “What is the store Y that can replace it,” Sanderson said.

The Empire Mall has “done very well the last couple of years,” Sanderson said.

The mall is boosted by the economic growth in the Sioux Falls area but also by its ability to respond to customer and community needs, Sanderson said.

“There’s a plan for every part of the (mall),” Gies said.

For example, the mall has two Chinese restaurants. It doesn’t make sense to recruit a third because it would be splitting the customer base too thin, Gies said.

The plan is detailed but it must also be fluid, Gies said. The mall has to be able to respond to tenant and customer needs, he said.

“I think relevance is the big thing,” Gies said. “What might be relevant today might not be in five years. You have to be able to pivot.”

The Empire Mall recently added a mini golf course and a selfie photo station.

“Adding a mini golf course isn’t a gimmick,” Sanderson said.

Malls have always been places of entertainment from arcades in the 1980s to singers and other programs throughout their history, Sanderson said.

Gies said the mini golf course is a response to shoppers wanting experiences. “Often the mall is considered a family place to come. Why not have the entertainment?” Gies said.

In many ways the mall is larger than its own building. Malls have typically attracted restaurants and retail to nearby land.

Recently, Gordmans, located behind the mall closed. But, Empire Place located across from the mall, has several businesses, some of which have already opened.

The addition of Chipotle and other businesses complement the mall, Gies said.

“That’s exciting for us,” Gies said.

An Empire Place map showing the sites of some restaurant locations.

Sanderson said the public has speculated on the future of mall’s and the future of retail for years.

“Ten years ago people were saying everything is moving online,” Sanderson said.

Certainly online retail sales have increased but brick and mortar stores have adapted and added their own online options, Sanderson said.

Online retailers have also adjusted and opened brick and mortar stores, Sanderson said.

Future success will depend heavily on a retailer’s ability to adapt and plan as they meet customers needs, Sanderson said.

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