One after another, the stores have departed, leaving Country Club Plaza one of Sacramentos oldest shopping malls almost entirely vacant.
Two of the remaining retailers closed in just the past two weeks. Claires jewelry store brought down its metal grates for the last time on Feb. 21. And on Tuesday, the malls Hallmark store also went dark.
We held on for years hoping this center would turn around, said Victor Dituri, district manager of Marks Hallmark. There have been different ideas for projects, but they never came through Its rock bottom.
The center at Watt and El Camino avenues is declining even as Town & Country Village, just 2 miles away at Fulton and Marconi avenues, regains strength following an extensive overhaul, said Melinda Eppler, executive director of the Fulton Avenue Association. The open air plaza underwent major construction in 2012, creating three big-box store spaces to accommodate T.J. Maxx, Bed Bath & Beyond and Ross Dress for Less. Bed Bath & Beyond moved to Town & Country from Country Club Plaza in October, and Ross will make the same move in July.
Country Club Plaza has been in a steep decline since Gottschalks, the anchor store opposite the still-standing Macys, closed in 2009, she said.
If Im a shopper, thats not where Im going to choose to go, Eppler said. I dont know how Macys has survived over the years, but that Macys has singlehandedly kept that shopping center from being shuttered.
Gottschalks 200,000-square-foot space remains unfilled and still sports the department stores large block lettering. While media reports last year said the plaza would be remodeled, no plans have been submitted, said Sacramento County Economic Development and Marketing Director Troy Givans.
The biggest challenge right now is the lack of demand for retail space following the recession, along with the proliferation of e-commerce, said Garrick Brown, director of retail research for Cassidy Turley, a Northern California commercial brokerage firm. Add to that competition from the regions retail powerhouses, the Galleria at Roseville and Arden Fair, which is less than 4 miles away.
You have very few anchor tenants looking to grow, except in really premier shopping centers, he said. And Country Club would have an extremely difficult time landing any of those on a very short list to begin with.
Hermosa Beach-based owners Laeroc Partners Inc. made several attempts to sell the property without success, most recently in spring 2013. Their best option, Brown added, would be to transition away from the regional mall model and toward a hybrid power center with a grocery component.
But thats assuming it could be done, he said. Unless you find a nontraditional user like a community college campus or a health care provider, its hard to picture anything being done but redevelopment.
Country Club Plaza did undergo a remodel in 2003, but employees said the modern decor and zigzag layout did more damage to business than good. The enclosed mall, which has historically served older clientele, has metallic chairs and cubic ceiling fixtures in every corridor, but customers are few and far between. The declining foot traffic was a huge detriment to the Hallmark store which, despite a loyal customer base, could not survive without additional foot traffic.
At a farewell event Tuesday, employees and frequent shoppers exchanged hugs among empty card shelves. Linda Greer, a Carmichael resident who once worked near the mall, said she has been visiting the store about twice a week for the last two decades, despite having another Hallmark closer to home. Greer recalled the community feeling of the store and the excellent customer service from veteran staff behind the counter.
This was our Hallmark, she said. I knew heading here in the car that I would be crying.
Toinette Sledge, manager of Hallmark and a 24-year employee, said even with a loyal customer base and excellent service, her store could not stay afloat.
I dont mind being the casualty of war, Sledge said. You cant keep doing business this way.
Country Club Plaza was about 55 percent leased last year, before the departure of Claires and Hallmark, Givans said.
The vacancy rate for the area, which includes Country Club Plaza, Arden Fair mall and Town & Country Village, was 11.9 percent at the end of last year, according to Cassidy Turley reports.
The key to a shopping centers success, Eppler said, lies in the recruitment efforts of property management a piece that she said has been largely missing at Country Club Plaza. The owners are MIA and have done little to promote the center or draw in new retailers, Eppler said. The management office at Country Club Plaza declined to comment and Laeroc Partners could not be reached.
Donahue Schriber, which owns 74 shopping centers across five states, including Town & Country Village, has reinvented its space to accommodate some big-box tenants while maintaining specialty stores such as Capital Confections and Fabric Garden, Eppler said.
A lots gone on and its taken some time, and my association is grateful that Donahue Schriber wanted to keep the center and not give up on it, Eppler said. We think theyll benefit from that.
Business is going well at Town & Country Village, said Henry Avila, senior vice president of asset management for Donahue Schriber.
We have Trader Joes that does great business and were happy with the openings of T.J. Maxx and Bed Bath & Beyond, he said. Were very excited about the future of Town & Country Village.