Down To Business: ‘Synergy’ drew specialty grocer to mall

Remember when supermarkets were tenants in retail malls, anchoring the then-new climatecontrolled sh

Remember when supermarkets were tenants in retail malls, anchoring the then-new climatecontrolled shoppers’ paradise alongside department stores and other merchants?

They eventually moved on, in search of more space after bulking up with pharmacies, fl oral shops and in-store bakeries. The malls, meanwhile, turned their attention to sought-after national brands.

But look no further than Wilton Mall in Saratoga County to see the migration reversing. There, Healthy Living Market and Cafe of South Burlington, Vt., plans to take 35,000 square feet of vacant anchor space for a natural foods supermarket.

It’s not the only instance of a grocer or mall looking to come full circle.

The Westfield Group, an Australian company with malls worldwide, wants to replicate in the United States the supermarket tenancy common in its overseas holdings, an official told the trade magazine Shopping Centers Today. Last spring, the no-frills grocer Aldi opened its fi4 rst mall store in a Westfield property in suburban Chicago and will use the results to gauge the likelihood of other mall locations, the magazine reported.

Taubman Centers Inc., Macerich Co. — which owns Wilton Mall and Rotterdam Square in Schenectady County — and General Growth Properties Inc. have also been named in news stories as seeing the addition of groceries as a win-win: replacing tenants lost to retail consolidation and adding to mall foot traffic. (Consumers average 1.7 trips per week to the supermarket, according to the Food Marketing Institute.) “You can generate traffic — traffi c c’reates sales, sales create profi ts and profits create the ability for tenants to pay the rent,” Macerich CEO Arthur Coppola told Bloomberg News last year about the addition of The Market, a kind of farmers market of vendors, to its mall in Santa Monica. Macerich, which failed to make an offi cial available this week to talk about supermarkets as tenants, has leases with Costco, Albertsons and Trader Joe’s for outparcels adjacent to several of its regional malls.

Howard Carr, president of The Howard Group, a commercial real estate broker in Colonie, said we shouldn’t expect to see the likes of Price Chopper returning to enclosed malls, though. “Malls are not really designed to take that kind of delivery system” — busy, orchestrated and seven days a week — needed by large supermarkets, he said.

But there could be room for smaller, specialty grocers. “You may see it occurring more,” Carr said of mall grocery sales, but he doesn’t anticipate a trend.

Eli Lesser-Goldsmith, an official with Healthy Living Market, a family business founded in 1986, said he likes the “retail synergy” of the Wilton Mall location. With Price Chopper and Hannaford supermarkets close by, consumers already have shown “they are doing their grocery shopping there” off Northway Exit 15, he said.

The company, headed by his mother, CEO Katy Lesser, has eyed the Saratoga area for years, Lesser-Goldsmith said, because it “reminds us” of South Burlington. Healthy Living Market has a 33,000-square-foot supermarket there.

The company looked at “a lot” of locations before choosing Wilton Mall, which had the desired square footage, parking and highway accessibility, he said. And the family “got a good feeling” from mall management, he added.

Construction on the new store is slated for the summer, with a mid-winter opening planned. In addition to offering all-natural, organic and local foods, it will have a cafe and space for cooking classes. About the same time construction begins, Lesser-Goldsmith said the company will start to line up local farmers and other vendors to supply the store and work to establish other community ties.

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