TOWN OF ULSTER—When a retail giant like Macy’s announces it is boarding up its store at the Hudson Valley Mall, that gets tongues flapping.
The Ulster County rumor mill, in fact, has been in overdrive since the latest disclosure by the national retailer earlier this month.
Another lesser blow comes as Express, specializing in women’s and men’s apparel, has announced it will not renew its mall lease. The store will close at the end of the month.
The wave of rumors began kicking into high gear last spring when JC Penney shut its doors after a more than three-decade run at the Hudson Valley Mall.
Some are claiming that the Hudson Valley Mall has been sold. Others are speculating that it is doomed by the end of the year.
Another tall tale going around, according to mall General Manager Terry Parisian, is that it’s going to be transformed in a multi-store outlet mall.
“I’ve heard them all,” he said. “None of them are true.”
For starters, Parisian stressed that the mall isn’t closing anytime soon.
“It can’t close. We have too many legal obligations to too many tenants,” he said.
“What people don’t understand is that even though (JC) Penney’s is vacant, they still own that property because they have a lease.”
Parisian said the same thing will be true once Macy’s closes in April. Both have several years left on their leases.
Naturally, the mall manager said he is frustrated by the retail trends he’s seeing and the community’s expectations about what he should be doing to revive the 810,000-square-foot mall.
Fact is, Parisian said he has big plans once the empty spaces are freed up.
He said he has his feelers out and would like to fill them with businesses like gyms, spas, grocery stores, college campuses, medical facilities, comedy clubs and more restaurants to serve Ulster County’s growing tourism industry.
His five-year vision for the mall, which is owned run by Edgewater Management Company in Liverpool, N.Y., is that it will “continue to look like it is but be more mixed-use.”
“It’s still going to be a social place, but a slightly different picture,” Parisian said. “We’re too busy today. We want to run in and run out. We don’t walk the mall or window-shop like we used to. We’re shopping online, via tablet or via smart phone.”
That, of course, has changed the retail landscape across the country—not just at the Hudson Valley Mall, he noted.
Most of it is due to changes in the way consumers shop, particularly the 80 million or so millennials, who were born between 1980 and 2000.
The digitally savvy population seeks discounts and embraces the convenience of online shopping, Parisian said.
“Millennials do not have a brand loyalty like we did in the past, and they use social media for their guidance, so retail, in general, needs to change its way of doing business. They need to adopt all channels of shopping—whether it be ecommerce, smart phones, tablets and brick-and-mortar stores.
“It’s a proven concept that 70 percent of shoppers use some form of online reviews. They go to 10 sources before they make a purchase, and then they will go into the store to buy it,” he said.
Stores, therefore, do not need as much display space as they once did, Parisian noted.
“Retail, in general, is struggling. They’re still trying to find who they are. They’ve used the same business model for the last 40 years, and people want to see change.”
Economics also have factored into the bigger picture and decline of the mall, according to Parisian.
He said prospective retailers not only look at the demographics of a region before they lay their roots, but the disposable income of its residents.
“It’s gone in Ulster County. There’s no industry coming into the area,” he said.
“We need growth. Without growth, we’re going to continue to wither on the vine. The county, the state have to look at true economic development and make it a mix of both tourism and manufacturing.”
Parisian bemoaned the pullout last year of Niagara Bottling, which had plans to build a 415,000-square-foot plant in the town of Ulster and draw water from Cooper Lake, a reservoir in Bearsville.
Company officials estimated that the project would have created some 120 jobs.
Parisian said it sent a message to future developers or manufacturers that the county is not business-friendly.
“If they don’t come here, the next potential business doesn’t even look at us. They just skip over us and go away,” he said.
In the same way, the lack of growth in the area has affected prospective tenants at the mall, Parisian said.
“The first thing that a prospective tenant is going to look at is what’s going on in the area or what’s the sales per square foot of the other stores within the complex, so when they’re below the national average, when there’s no industry to drive the consumer to the mall, it’s very difficult to convince a retailer that they need to be here in this area, so that’s what we’re up against.”
While Parisian said he is working hard to dispel the rumors and looks ahead to what the mall might become, people need to be mindful of the mall’s financial contribution to the area.
“We are one of the highest assessed properties in the county ($66 million, according to Ulster Town Assessor James Maloney). We contribute a lot of taxes to the school, the county and the town of Ulster to the tune of millions of dollars,” he said.
Not only does the mall employ workers in retail, but subcontractors in housekeeping, security, landscaping and snowplowing, Parisian said.
“So for the people out there that say the mall is closing, just remember, if you don’t shop here, the mall may not be here in the future,” he said.