While most malls largely support national stores, an upscale mall in Phoenix area is creating some room for a few local independents.
Biltmore Fashion Park in early November opened a new retail section called Union dedicated to 18 retailers, almost all Valley-based. Each individual store in the 7,200-square-foot strip located on the east side of the open-air center ranges from 200 to 500 square feet.
To set it apart from the rest of the mall, Union has an urban and rustic feel with a mix of concrete and reclaimed barn wood, as well as unfinished ceilings that expose lighting and ducts. The upscale mix of independents features Whoopie Baking Co., Queen Creek Olive Mill, Smeeks candy store, the Willows Home and Garden, and a restaurant and wine bar.
The independents get a break with only a one-year term as opposed to the typical three for national retailers, but they particularly benefit from the foot traffic with many locals primarily shopping at malls.
"It's very difficult for an independent merchant to find a little niche in a side street like you would see in San Francisco or New York here in Phoenix," Lew Gallo, owner of Union home accessory shop For The People who helped assemble the mix of retailers, told arizona.newszap.com. "We've kind of created that little side street with Union at The Biltmore, and it's allowing small stores to survive and thrive there."
For its part, Biltmore Fashion Park gains a differential from other malls and also taps into the growing preference for locally produced goods and Arizona-based retailers. The Union is also hoping to attract a younger, hipper crowd while still appealing to loyal older shoppers.
"This is exactly the opposite of what big players who managed malls were doing 20 to 25 years ago, when they just wanted big retailers," Bob Kammrath of Kammrath & Associates, a commercial-real-estate research company, told The Arizona Republic. "And that didn't work out. ... Everybody is scratching their heads asking, 'What can we try next that might work?'"
How much does a mall environment increase or decrease the likelihood of success for independent retailers?