This column of Strolling the Agora appears in the September 26, 2010 issue of SHOPPING CENTER DIGEST.
After a long and successful journey of 37 years, full of great times, personal connections and fascinating memories, we have decided it's time to flick the switch and say “Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.” This will be the last issue of Shopping Center Digest “The Locations Newsletter,” as we decide to go on to other things.
It was our good fortune to enter this industry during its vibrant heyday, when “every cornfield had the potential to become a new mall” and we were lucky enough to experience a part of this exploding growth.
Some comments from our archives: John Z. Stec, VP, Fabric-Centers of America: “When I joined Fabri-Centers of America, Inc. I was a one-man Real Estate Department and I couldn't have done without the help of SHOPPING CENTER DIGEST. Now that we have grown to over 693 fabric stores and will open 25-30 superstores this year, we depend even more on your newsletter than ever before.”
Or, Charles R. Lebovitz, President & CEO, CBL & Associates Properties, Inc: “You have eliminated the frills and are giving us the nuts and bolts of what is happening in our industry. We make certain that our key personnel see each issue so they can take advantage of the information… If something new breaks, we can find it first in SHOPPING CENTER DIGEST.”
Or, Ronald H. Erickson, VP-Real Estate, Friendly Ice Cream Corp: “I am glad there is somebody in our industry like yourself willing to call it like it is… Keep calling it as you see it – somebody has to speak up!”
Many Deals Offered
However, every trip has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And there is a welcome freedom – after some 40 years of pressure from demanding deadlines, the herding and hassle of business travel, being held captive too often in exhibit booths, that it's time to listen to another drummer.
So as I review this passage from the late '60s, I recall the brainstorm that brought me to Al Sussman – the first head of the International Council of Shopping Centers – and showed him a dummy for a new magazine concentrating on all aspects of our shopping center/retail chain industry, and a proposal to partner in this endeavor. He reached into his desk drawer to bring out a similar dummy for a publication he had envisioned before heading the trade association; he couldn't act on it then due to the then thought that a not-for-profit trade association shouldn't publish a profit-making magazine containing advertisements.
However, the concept was quickly picked up then by Joseph Shore (no relation) of Communication Channels, Inc, and we partnered for a couple of years on Shopping Center World, now known as Retail Traffic. Then came the inspiration to go on my own with a newsletter focusing only on development and leasing with a faster, more organized delivery of information; and so was born the twice-monthly Shopping Center Digest. Several years later, attitudes changed and ICSC began publishing Shopping Centers Today.
Not Possible Today
The industry has changed numerous times over the years, and I recall numerous flashbacks and snippets resulting in deals that could not happen today.
I remember a flight sitting between Herb Brown, then head of real estate for Kinney Shoe, and a developer neither of us knew, who was planning a new shopping center. My lap served as the table for his leasing plan. By the time we landed, the “deal was done:” location, rent, fixture allowance, and leaving it up to the home offices to tie down the remaining minor details.
Or the cabanas around the pool at The Fountainbleau in Miami, with landlords and tenants concentrating on site plans and leasing plans, wheeling and dealing in their bathing suits, and then jumping into the water to cool off before heading to their next appointment three cabanas down.
Or when Spring Conventions moved annually in a triangle from North to South To West, and when the number of attendees was small enough that ICSC one year bought out Disneyland for one night of free entertainment as an event for all registrants. Or in Toronto when some of the larger landlords were unhappy with the accommodations and set up their leasing suites out of the city at Inn on the Park and ICSC was forced to run regular buses for registrants. Some later left the organization and it took years before they were all lured back.
And the creative, strong-minded individuals who built the foundation for this industry. Those earlier years were ones of zest with flamboyant, self-motivated, hard-driving individuals who towered over other entrepreneurs.
Len Farber and his “If you have an idea, and I have an idea, we share them and now we both have two ideas.”
After moving to Florida from the North, he headed on his yacht to summer around Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, having his captain drop him off at strategic points along the Inland Waterway and picking him up further north at the end of a day's “wheeling and dealing.” And when he sold his last shopping mall: “Now I can afford to live the way I always have.”
Mel Simon, relocating from New York to Indianapolis to begin brokering deals on strip centers, then sending for brothers Fred and Herb to begin building their empire founded on strong relationships; this later became Simon Property Group. An important thank-you event was their annual, two-day Christmas Party, one day for the company, close friends and locals, and the other for the rest of the industry, including some competitors if they wanted to show up.
And there was Ed DeBartolo Sr. of DeBartolo Properties Management, with his annual weekend golf outing in Tampa for retailers, where business was not discussed – unless the tenant really insisted, and then out came the leasing plans. This was when leasing people for landlords got “a piece of the action” – usually 1%; so when the company sold a mall for $40 million and Ed Sr. dropped $400,000 in cash on Cal Gaeta's desk, he was very thankful, knew he couldn't go further up in the organization – and used the money to start his own company.
Or Al Taubman of Taubman Development Co, who other landlords credited with “teaching us how to build two-level malls.” To him, no big deal: “Put a one-level mall over another, cut a few holes in the floor between the levels for visibility, and put in some staircases and escalators for vertical access.”
Or the class act of Bill Cafaro of The Cafaro Company. You went into his hospitality suite at the Spring Convention and it was immaculate with linen napkins, tablecloths, silverware, fine dining and service, “the place experienced dealmakers went for lunch.”
You were a guest in his home.
And the kindness and helping hand of George Zamias, who began his career shining shoes, and when Marc Greenberg hit the age of passage when he “had to start his own thing” – and couldn't convince him to reconsider, said “OK, I understand. Now, what do you need and how can I help you?”
And Milt Cooper of Kimco, when even though developers were willing to pay 21% interest during the recession of 20 years ago, they still couldn't get traditional lenders to finance new projects; he went to Wall Street and engineered the re-birth of Real Estate Investment Trusts for shopping centers – which began major mergers and acquisitions leading to the formation of today's behemoth owner-developers.
The Leasing Women
In the earlier days there were few women involved in dealmaking; this was really an all-male, old boys' network. But there was Ann Hicks, a tough, direct women with Homart Development Co – shopping center arm of Sears – who turned down the offer to head the division because she didn't want to relocate to Chicago from Dallas. And “I had to be as tough as you guys or you would've cut me off at the knees.”
And Elizabeth “Betty” Jarvis, who credited her years of training under a demanding Al Taubman while heading his leasing department with giving her the experience, and guts and strength to become the industry's first female mall developer.
The route into the more rewarding responsibilities of dealmaking for women then usually began at the mall level through the marketing departments; today they come into this venue from many different doorways, and there may be as many hard-driving, creative women on both sides of the negotiating table as there are men.
And So Many Others
Irv Wolf at Monumental Properties, who referred to his office area as the Zoo, because the other offices in his area were manned by people named Fox, Katz, and Lyons. He spent his last years as a top expert witness, as he said, “testifying against some of the deals I made.”
He also mentored Rene Daniels, who did such a great job filling vacancies at all their malls that he “leased himself out of a job;” the projects became so valuable to investors that Monumental sold them all and Rene started his own consulting firm representing owner-developers, and gives back to the industry by teaching each year at ICSC's University of Shopping Centers.
Dick Shur at Spencer Gifts and then Waldenbooks – the very funny, frustrated Borscht Belt comic who never introduced himself when you picked up the telephone, just started on his latest joke. But was also one of the toughest, most knowledgeable dealmakers on the tenant side.
Ken McGuire of Bresler's 33 Flavors, who insisted he was not in the ice cream business but was a real estate guy working for an ice cream chain. After we started SCD, he told me, “Murray, you should take advertising” and then reserved the front cover for each of our magazine format issues until the company was sold about 15 years later.
Don Fitch of Zale Corp, very laid-back and low-key, who made more deals while on the golf course than any of his competitors who spent 10-12 hours at their desks and telephones.
Bob Congel of The Pyramid Cos, who said lawsuits from citizens fighting his projects were “just a normal part of doing business,” and once started construction on a regional mall before obtaining control of the property, and opened it within 11 months of groundbreaking.
Andy Murphy, Joe Moss, and the others of The Rat Pack who needed only one drink and a cigar to launch into “Danny Boy” and “Irish Eyes Are Smiling” – and were always eager to drop everything to talk the deal.
And on, and on, and on.
Important Events, Changes
The period beginning early in December was a milestone– as important for dealmakers each year as the Spring Convention; it was another opportunity to build relationships and informal networks. Monday night in New York was scheduled for separate strategy and social dinners for landlords and retailers, then getting together for New England Development's dessert party. Tuesday was the Kinney Party for “just a few thousand of your closest friends,” followed that evening by The Brown Boys' reception (Herb and Howard), then the next day by Melville's Party at Tavern on the Green, with limited seating, a small enough restaurant that there was a legitimate reason to limit the number of invitations.
Whereas a good portion of the industry now closes down that month as far as dealmaking is concerned, and attention focuses on holiday sales to determine expansion plans and how many new stores retailers will open the following year, in the past this period was busy, fertile territory. Leasing and development was an ongoing process; during these weeks was the time to correct lease problems, maybe try a new clause or approach, run it up the flagpole to see if anyone salutes.
And so it went during the '60s, '70s, '80s.
Ancients And Dinosaurs
Today, with decision-making on new locations now being determined by “the head office” and real estate committees, where responsibilities and much of the heavy-lifting have been farmed out to local brokers and numerous real estate networks that don't know what's going on outside their immediate trade area, where the location goes to who's willing to pay the most without regard to its impact on the entire project, and you can't understand the deal without looking at a computer printout, a transformation has taken place.
However, one cannot ignore what's taking place in around our industry; there's the economy, the fact that stubborn, high unemployment has caused consumers to stop spending, retailers to fold and cut back on expansion, that there are so few new markets left that are ripe – at this time – to support new development, and that there are so many other, less risky opportunities in foreign countries. Admittedly, there is a diminished relevancy to focus on new and expanding shopping centers, and expanding retailers.
Dealmaking today has become more business-like, more routine, more dependant on numbers spit out by the software program, more de-personalized. And certainly less creative.
Or, as those few ancients and dinosaurs still active say, “It's not as much fun anymore.”
(And one final note of clarification. Shopping Center Digest has been closely aligned with the Directory of Major Malls since its inception over 31 editions ago. But it is now – and for many years – a completely independent publication separate from Shopping Center Digest. It is a primary Source to the shopping center/retail chain industry and continues to expand its depth of research and detail on its coverage of the major shopping centers and malls throughout the US and Canada – the ONLY such resource now available. Please visit www.shoppingcenters.com for online access to the almost 7,000 major shopping center listings and the latest product announcements from the Directory of Major Malls.)
More information on Shopping
Center Digest, Expanding
Retailers, the weekly SCD Eflash, and Directory
of Major Malls may be obtained from our website, www.shoppingcenters.com.
Strolling the Agora was a twice-monthly column discussing trends, issues of importance, and commentary on the leasing/development aspects of the shopping center/retail chain industry in the US and Canada. Called Strolling the Agora, it was a part of Shopping Center Digest, a newsletter founded in 1973 published until September 2010. The column provided expert insight into various retail focused topics. It was primarily authored by Murray Shor, Editor & Publisher as well as industry and veteran retail experts. A smattering of archived columns are presented here for your reading “pleasure”. It's an interesting “look back” at what were current hot topics at the time with regard to shopping center/retail industry focus, development and leasing expansions and processes, retail mix, opinions and more.
About Murray Shor:
Reporting and writing on the shopping center/retail industry since the late ’60s. Began as editor at Chain Store Age, founded Shopping Center World (now Retail Traffic), Shopping Center Digest “The Locations Newsletter” in 1973, and the Directory of Major Malls in 1979. Each issue of Shopping Center Digest contained a column called Strolling the Agora which provides commentary on trends, activity, issues of concern to development and leasing in the shopping center/retail industry.