Malls, retailers in Cy-Fair adapt to changing retail landscape

The first half of 2017 was marked by announcements from a handful of retailers that they would be significantly downsizing the number of bricks-and-mortar storefronts nationwide.


The biggest names to have announced closures include Macy’s Inc., J.C. Penney Co. and Sears Holding Corp., which  will be closing 68, 138 and 308 stores, respectively. Other retailers—including Bebe Stores Inc., The Limited and Wet Seal—announced plans to close all stores nationwide.


Cy-Fair has not been immune to the closures. Sears locations on Jones Road and in Copperfield have already been shuttered. Sports Authority closed on FM 1960 after the company filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2016, and Gander Mountain closed its Cy-Fair location in May.


A big factor in why sales at many bricks-and-mortar retail outlets are falling is more people are shopping online, said Daniel Levine, director of the Avant-Guide Institute, a consultancy firm that studies consumer trends, including trends in the Houston area.


“If a product can be found easier and cheaper on the internet, that’s what will drive consumers,” he said.


However, overall retail growth in the Cy-Fair area has been steady through the first half of 2017. A report from the commercial real estate firm CBRE found Houston has largely been insulated from the effects of national closures.


Retail occupancy rates in Cy-Fair hovered around 95 percent, the report found. While some stores closed this year, many more opened, including a Dressbarn in Fairfield, multiple locations of Pet Supermarket and a Total Wine and More in Copperfield.


Fairfield Town Center, a new retail development off Hwy. 290 in Cypress, has brought on several large retail tenants over the past year, including Old Navy, Party City and Marshalls.


“Our retailers in general are all happy with the business they are getting,” said Carl Esser, general manager of the Fairfield Town Center. “We only have three spaces left to lease and we have interested parties in all of those.”


Even as retailers downsize their number of storefronts, occupancy rates at Cy-Fair area malls remain high as well.


After stores have closed Willowbrook Mall locations, it has not taken long for new tenants to take their places, Mall Manager Sandy LaClave said. Last November, officials had to renovate the mall to create an anchor space for Dick’s Sporting Goods because all the existing anchor spaces were occupied.


“Willowbrook is almost fully leased,” LaClave said. “Stores are always coming and going; this is not necessarily unusual. Stores that are succeeding are doing really well.”


Aside from Dick’s, which opened in October, Willowbrook has brought in major tenants, such as Zara, Lush and Nordstrom Rack, over the past three years. Clothing store Charlotte Russe opened this summer, and ThinkGeek is set to open this fall, LaClave said.


However, not all Greater Houston area malls have found their footing. Northwest Mall, which was located at the corner of Hwy. 290 and Loop 610, closed March 31.


“We’re not looking at a wholesale collapse,” Levine said. “We’re looking at a slow bleed with the weakest [malls] falling off first.”



Survive and adapt


Although retail has proven resilient in Houston, Levine said he believes the market will soon take a hit. Survival for retailers depends on their ability to adapt, he said.


Both Willowbrook Mall and Houston Premium Outlets are implementing strategies to keep shoppers coming back. Strategies focus on experiential shopping—giving shoppers a reason to come out aside from the stores.


On Aug. 19 and 20, Willowbrook hosted its first-ever Market Day, bringing local vendors and artisans into the mall to set up shop.


“It offers shoppers a local flavor, something you don’t normally see at a mall,” LaClave said.


Levine said it is hard to predict the future of retail in Houston, but added the trend is likely to get more intense.


“Once [trends] get going, they have a lot of inertia,” he said. “Trends are hard to beat, and the trend is people buying online.”

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By Shawn Arrajj

Shawn Arrajj serves as the editor of the Cy-Fair edition of Community Impact Newspaper where he covers the Cy-Fair and Jersey Village communities. He mainly writes about development, transportation and issues in Harris County.


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