Malls undergo shift in retail


Colonie Center gains Christopher's store from Crossgates as changes boost competition 
Christopher's Men's Stores moved from Crossgates Mall to Colonie Center last week, attracted by more foot traffic and a store that doubled in size.
As Colonie Center continues to redefine itself through a $70 million rehab project, is this a sign that Crossgates Mall needs to keep up?

Not quite, say local retail experts. But it does show the continued flux as the two malls battle for shoppers in a changing retail world.

"Retail is such a malleable industry," said Jeffrey Pfeil, president of J.W. Pfeil & Co. Inc., a retail developer and consultant in Saratoga Springs. "I think there's plenty of room for both of them. But they're always going to be in a state of change."

Christopher's, located for 10 years near the entrance to a now-closed Macy's at Crossgates, is moving near the Macy's store in Colonie Center. Vince Rua, president and chairman of the firm, said he was impressed by the mall's changes and how the new site would provide better access.

"I felt traffic was down fairly significantly after Macy's closed," he said of the store at Crossgates. The Guilderland Macy's moved down the hall to a former Filene's space.

By 2008, Colonie Center will have two new high-end chain restaurants, a new Barnes & Noble bookstore, a 15-screen movie theater and an L.L. Bean store.

Crossgates, on the other hand, has two big empty storefronts — the old Macy's and a former Lord & Taylor site — and a vacant third floor where a multiplex cinema once was.

Both malls claim about 96 percent occupancy. In the case of Colonie Center, the number refers to space that will be occupied at the end of construction. At Crossgates, the number doesn't include the two vacant storefronts or the theater.

But Sara Nieves, marketing director at Crossgates, said the mall's 2006 season (excluding December) saw sales increase about 8 percent over 2005. "That's a great number," she said.

Howard Carr, president of the Howard Group, a Colonie commercial real estate firm, said Colonie Center was repositioning itself to go after a wealthier demographic. In the meantime, Crossgates, with its plethora of stores like Deb, Hot Topic, Tee Zone, Forever 21 and H&M, has gone a good job going after the under-25 group.

What will happen after Colonie Center opens its movie theater is anybody's guess, he said.

"There's really no big difference between either one of them in terms of their ability to draw customers," said Carr, whose firm helped bring L.L. Bean to Colonie Center.

Indeed, not everyone is following Christopher's to Colonie Center. Rocky Mountain Gallery left the Wolf Road mall in August for Crossgates Mall after its lease was canceled.

"They did us a favor," said manager Lisa Middleton. "We've had one of our best Christmas seasons we've had in years."

Other stores aren't comfortable in either space. Saydra Doyle, owner of Cottage Chic Boutique, moved the clothing store from Colonie Center after seeing sales drop off in the fall when the mall's food court was closed by construction. She relocated to Crossgates, despite the higher rent.

"I thought you can't go wrong at Crossgates at Christmastime," she said. "I was wrong."

After a lackluster season, she decided to leave the mall and try to find a freestanding store somewhere else, perhaps in Clifton Park. "Knowing what I know now, I wouldn't have left Colonie Center," she said.