As a girl, Shawna Rundstrom regularly accompanied her mom on outings to Santa Rosa’s two shopping malls.
But now as a mother with two young daughters, the Sebastopol resident finds herself an infrequent visitor to the Coddingtown and Santa Rosa Plaza centers. But she’s planning a trip to Coddingtown after Nordstrom Rack opens there Friday.
“I seem to usually find stuff when I go there,” Rundstrom said of her visits to Nordstrom discount outlets in other cities. “It can be decently priced, too.”
Santa Rosa’s two malls have long been premier retail spaces in the county, and construction of the 31,000-square-foot outlet represents the latest step in reinvigorating the 54-year-old center. In the past six years, Coddingtown has added a Whole Foods, a Target and a string of restaurants on its front face on Guerneville Road.
But the competition for shoppers has grown increasingly fierce, both from online commerce and from discount clothing retailers in other shopping areas. And recent store closures, including Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy, mean some consumers have had fewer reasons to visit the two malls.
Mounting closures this year make it the worst since the recession for U.S. chain stores, said Garrick Brown, vice president of retail research for real estate company Cushman & Wakefield. Already, the number of planned or completed closures exceeds 3,500.
“My suspicion is these are all-time records,” he said, adding the nation’s malls have surplus space, and department stores will continue to shed locations in an effort to improve their bottom lines.
Even so, Brown, who is based in Sacramento, suggested Sonoma County’s malls will benefit from their location. They sit in a region not only known for high employment levels but also for two factors that many locals view as negatives — a congested freeway and a constricting regulatory process for new construction.
Highway 101 traffic contributes to making the North Bay something of a “captive marketplace,” he said, at least for those seeking brick-and-mortar retailers. And, as in the residential sector, demand for store space remains high because tough standards and slow permitting means new projects can be difficult to build here.
“There is a shortage of retail in the North Bay,” he said. “It actually is one of the rare areas in the U.S. that is under-retailed.”
Over the past six years, the number of U.S. shopping malls has declined to about 1,350 from 1,500, Brown said. About 75 of those former malls have been reconfigured for other uses, including retail centers different from the traditional enclosed mall.
Department stores have seen declining sales partly because shoppers continue to be frugal in the wake of the recession, which hit in late 2007.
The tighter spending habits in turn have led to considerable growth in such off-price apparel stores as Ross, T.J. Maxx and Burlington Coat Factory.
But the hard times for department stores also can be blamed on the rise in online shopping, which Cushman & Wakefield calls the most disruptive force in U.S. retail in a half-century.
Of note, the suburban shopping mall was itself a disruption. Its rise in the 1960s led to an era of upheaval and decline for town centers around the nation.