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Touring Chicago’s High-end Retail Scene

By Russ Gager

The differences in luxury retailing were highlighted during a tour of three major high-end shopping malls on Chicago’s “Magnificent Mile” – Michigan Avenue – at the conclusion on Oct 2 of the 2012 Research Connections conference held by the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC).

Tour attendees were given guided tours of the malls by representatives of their management companies. First up was The Shops at Northbridge, which uses its innovatively designed mall to draw shoppers from the pricey rents of Michigan Avenue to the Nordstrom that anchors the rear of the mall, which is located one block behind Michigan Avenue on a street with more reasonable rent.

Since 2008, The Macerich Co. has owned and managed all the retail within the nine-block Northbridge complex that includes several hotels, office buildings and another retail complex. Approximately 30,000 hotel rooms are near The Shops at Northbridge, so the mall attracts both visitors and residents. Macerich has created promotions to increase residents’ use of the mall and is using a temporary promotion by Cadillac to spur sales.

The next stop was further down Michigan Avenue across Michigan Avenue from the historic Water Tower, which survived the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. Named Water Tower Place, the mall is managed by General Growth Properties (GGP). Built in 1976, GGP replaced a former Lord and Taylor with a series of stores in 2008.

The prime first-floor space opposite Macy’s was leased to American Girl Place, and as the vertical shopping mall ascends, retailers like Adidas have taken over Lord and Taylor’s former space to draw shoppers to the back of higher floors. Eleven new retailers were introduced in 2008 to the mall, and GGP says it has introduced new stores to 60 percent of the mall. Level 2 is for families, with a Lego store next to American Girl Place’s second floor. Level 6 is for teens and has acquired popularity on social media as a meeting place.

The final stop was at the 900 North Michigan Shops, which is anchored by Bloomingdale’s in the rear of the mall. The mall features high-end, exclusive shops, some from London and other unique ones from local entrepreneurs. Managed by JMB Financial Advisors LLC, the mixed use structure also houses a Four Seasons Hotel, 300,000 square feet of office space and 154 luxury condominiums in two towers.

Approximately 30 percent of the mall’s sales are from residents, JMB says. The mall is noticeably quieter with a lower level of retail traffic and tourists than Water Tower Place, but JMB says the shoppers have a higher per capita level of consumption.

Smaller groups of ICSC attendees ventured out of the Fairmont Hotel where the meeting was held to explore nearby State Street’s new Walgreens concept store, the new City Target in the historic Carson Pirie Scott and Co. building and the historic Macy’s – formerly Marshall Field and Co. – along with the variety of retail options within walking distance.

Russ Gager is the editor-in-chief of Retail Merchandiser magazine. He can be reached at russ.gager@phoenixmediacorp.com.


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