Fewer Middle-Class Consumers Means Fewer Midrange Mall Anchors

Just in time for the holiday shopping season, there was a deeply symbolic changeover at the King of Prussia mall in the suburbs of Philadelphia. What used to be a large Sears department store has assumed its final form: it’s part Dick’s Sporting Goods store and part Primark, a fast fashion retailer out of Ireland. That’s just one mall that demonstrates a trend: the institution of the anchor store is dying out in malls.

A classic theory about why all but the most elite malls are slowly dying is that solid middle-of-the-road retailers like Sears and JCPenney are disappearing along with the American middle class.

Yet, as the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, even “A+” rated malls like King of Prussia that take in almost $1,000 per square foot are having anchor trouble. A giant Sears or JCPenney pulls down the whole mall’s income per square foot, which is an important figure used for attracting even more upscale tenants.

Even the ubiquitous Macy’s is closing stores across the country, potentially leaving the malls where they’re housed to descend into a retail death spiral if no other department stores are interested in taking over the spots. One problem for malls has been mergers: when Federated Department Stores and May Department Stores Company merged back in 2005, it meant that where the same company owned two anchors in the same mall, one had to go.

If middle-class people are no longer shopping at department stores, where are they buying their clothes and housewares? The success of off-price stores and outlets means that department stores aren’t just sending their out-of-season merchandise there: they’re having special product lines made for their off-price stores. Macy’s got into the off-price biz last year, and so is Lord & Taylor.

Traditional mall anchors are fading away [Philadelphia Inquirer]