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Vacant storefronts at Rotterdam Mall are sign of times

Vacant storefronts at Rotterdam Mall are sign of times

Macy’s advertisements now hang in the empty storefront windows of the Express Limited at the Rott

Macy’s advertisements now hang in the empty storefront windows of the Express Limited at the Rotterdam Square mall.

Across the hall from the shuttered clothes retailer is another darkened storefront, blocked by a metal gate and obscured by a plastic curtain. The defunct stores are joined at the junction near the Sears corridor by a makeshift wall concealing another pair of empty store fronts.

Further down the short corridor running parallel to Express Limited is the former location of Brooklyn’s American Grill. The defunct restaurant closed about four years ago and still hasn’t drawn a new tenant.

There are five retail spaces in this section of mall and only the smallest one carries a functioning business — the Easy Method Driving School. Outside, the scores of empty spaces in the mall’s rear parking lot seem to accentuate the Rotterdam Square’s seemingly growing number of retail vacancies.

“It’s probably the emptiest it’s ever been,” confessed Joann Jackson, a manager at Glennpeter Jewelers who has worked at the mall for eight years.

While the mall’s three anchor stores remain viable and its movie theater was recently refurbished, roughly a fifth of its storefronts remain vacant, according to an unofficial count conducted last week. Among the 73 retail spaces appearing on the mall directory, only 59 are listed as occupied.

The directory also still lists Express Limited and Borders Express. Both retail chains left the mall in January.

The food court also has a number of vacancies. McDonald’s folded up shop last year and joined three other empty spaces in the 12-store food court.

Rotterdam Square is one of two Capital Region malls owned by the California-based Macerich Company. The other, the Wilton Mall at Saratoga, had 73 retail spaces filled out of a possible 79, not including the building’s five anchor stores and movie theater.

Many of Rotterdam Square’s stores are corporately owned and most employees referred questions to media relations departments far removed from the mall on West Campbell Road. But those who did discuss the mall’s retail vibrancy described it as bleak and in decline since the recent recession began more than two years ago.

And the most recent departures haven’t improved their perceptions. Peggy Tullio, who opened Tullio’s Hair Studio in the mall nearly 17 years ago, said stores have been gradually disappearing for some time.

“If you look around these days, it’s pretty empty,” she said.

With fewer shops, Tullio said there are also fewer people walking Rotterdam Square’s corridors. She said her salon relies primarily on appointments, which are usually returning or referred customers.

“We’re not getting a lot of walk-ins these days,” she said.

Chip Ferguson, Rotterdam Square’s property manager, played down the number of vacancies at the mall. Though declining to release any figures about the mall’s occupancy rate, he said a degree of turnover in retailers is always to be expected.

“Really, retail is all about that change,” he said this week. “We’re going to get that change all the time.”

Instead, Ferguson pointed to the successes, including the newly renovated theater space. Zurich Cinemas, a Syracuse-area company that operates theaters at 11 locations in New York, signed a long-term agreement with the mall in July and installed a number of improvements, including a digital 3-D screen.

Ferguson said K-mart, Sears and Macy’s also serve as solid anchor stores for the mall. With these solid retailers, he said the mall shouldn’t have any problem filling the interior stores.

“It is an ebb and flow,” he said. “The key will be working with the merchants, understanding what our customers are looking for and leasing to those needs.”

Erin Hershkowitz, a spokeswoman for the International Council of Shopping Centers, said the economy has been rough on malls nationwide, but they’re starting to rebound from the dismal retail figures posted in 2008. She said a number of shopping centers have seen a slight increase in empty storefronts because of chain closures and the overall contraction of the retail market.

“Over the last year, we have seen a rise in vacancies in shopping centers across the United States,” she said.

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