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2016-11-16 / Featured / Front Page

Forty years later, Chesterfield Towne Center finds the right mix

By Peter Galuszka
CONTRIBUTING WRITER


Santa Claus in his office at Chesterfield Towne Center, part of a new digital “Adventure to Santa” attraction. 
Ash Daniel/Chesterfield Observer Santa Claus in his office at Chesterfield Towne Center, part of a new digital “Adventure to Santa” attraction. Ash Daniel/Chesterfield Observer Cute, cuddly Kung Fu Pandas from mythical China accentuate the Christmas spirit as animation firm DreamWorks features its “Adventure to Santa” exhibit at Chesterfield Towne Center this year.

The four-room, red-and-green house features digital lights that create instant snow blizzards. Inside, visitors are whisked on a heart-thumping, three-dimensional virtual ride on a sleigh from China to the North Pole. Inside a cozy office, Santa is waiting.

It’s more evidence that the 41-year-old shopping mall is defying predictions that its heyday years are long over. Now in its second year, the DreamWorks attraction has boosted holiday sales about 10 percent and, at some stores, about 25 percent, says Bryon Wall, the mall’s general manager.

Commercial real estate analysts say that a makeover and management by Rouse Properties, which bought the shopping mall in 2013 from California-based Macerich Co., along with other factors, have given it new life.


Santa’s cozy office is the final stop for families partaking in DreamWorks’ “Adventure to Santa” at Chesterfield Towne Center. 
Ash Daniel/Chesterfield Observer Santa’s cozy office is the final stop for families partaking in DreamWorks’ “Adventure to Santa” at Chesterfield Towne Center. Ash Daniel/Chesterfield Observer Rouse has been busy adding new stores, redesigning the interior and working to improve access to the mall, making car traffic flow more efficiently. A large fireplace has been added to mall’s main corridor. Better lighting and soft seating have been accentuated, according to Rouse spokesperson Matthew Chudoba.

“We have brought in a high number of best-in-class retailers including [Swedish clothing outlet] H&M, which opened in November 2015 to long lines and record sales, Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, Ulta Beauty, Five Guys, Torrid, White Barn Candle, Journeys Kidz, Kirkland’s, Kids Foot Locker, Nestle Café and more,” he said in a statement.


Chesterfield Towne Center’s “Adventure to Santa” is one of 12 DreamWorks attractions at malls in the U.S. 
Ash Daniel/Chesterfield Observer Chesterfield Towne Center’s “Adventure to Santa” is one of 12 DreamWorks attractions at malls in the U.S. Ash Daniel/Chesterfield Observer Since Rouse took over, overall sales are up more than 10 percent, and leasing rates are a healthy $400 per square foot, Chudoba said.

Local commercial real estate analysts agree that Rouse has done a good job of injecting new life into the mall.

“It seems they have done a great job of converting it and keeping it alive and healthy,” says John Jay Schwartz of Have Site Will Travel, a local commercial real estate firm.

Adds Brian Glass, senior vice president of retail brokerage at Colliers International: “It seems to be doing well and holding its own.”

The strong performance is unusual given the mall’s historic ups and downs. When it opened in 1975 as Chesterfield Mall, it had so few shoppers that it was dubbed the “Chesterfield Morgue.”

As residential development moved farther west in the county, the mall experienced a rebirth of sorts after an expansion and renovation in the late 1980s. But by the early 2000s, new threats were emerging.

In 2003, a wave of upscale retail development hit the region. Short Pump Town Center in Henrico County and Stony Point Fashion Park in Richmond off of Chippenham Parkway offered new stores and a more accessible, open format. With high-end stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Brooks Brothers opening at Stony Point and Nordstrom anchoring Short Pump Town Center, the older Chesterfield mall was put on notice.

Meanwhile, huge subdivisions on the western side of state Route 288 were taking root. Just a few miles down Midlothian Turnpike, a new urbanist and seemingly more modern shopping center, Westchester Commons, threatened to put potentially fatal pressure on Chesterfield Towne Center.

But the trajectory was turned upside down with the Great Recession and real estate crash of 2007 and 2008. Plans for big, new housing developments farther west were delayed, scaled back or shut down. Westchester, which finally opened in 2009, was scaled back from earlier plans that called for upscale shops and retailers.

Meanwhile, the corridor of Midlothian Turnpike from Powhite Parkway to Route 288 started to solidify.

Chesterfield Towne Center, located at Huguenot Road and Midlothian Turnpike, was smack in the middle of it. “It’s an excellent location for the county,” says Glass. “They’ve [Rouse Properties] done what they need to do to maintain it.”

Rouse more precisely targeted the demographics of shoppers, balancing the changing tastes of younger buyers with the high-income tastes of residents living in wealthy neighborhoods like Salisbury. “They got the right next new tenants, and they kept it viable” in a changing market, Schwartz says.

Additional help came when Wegmans, the celebrated grocery chain, opened a store this year just west of the mall on Midlothian Turnpike.

Making it easier to get to and from the mall were new traffic patterns around a relocated Costco and other big-box stores. New apartments opened nearby.

Problems still lurk, however. While Chesterfield Towne Center’s previous owners did an admirable job of keeping anchor spaces filled – adding a Barnes & Noble Booksellers near the food court in 2009 and a new TJ Maxx and HomeGoods combo store in 2011 – two of the mall’s major anchors, Sears and JCPenney, are struggling. Their parent companies have faced rough times, and Glass says Sears could be endangered “because it is bleeding red ink.”

In other areas, the mall is preparing more upgrades. The mall’s western front is being remodeled for holiday decorations. Bryon Wall says the space will be used for holiday displays and then may be used for two or three higher-end restaurants. “We are working on the leasing,” he says.

With measures like these – along with Santa’s house – reviving Chesterfield Towne Center, fears that it would be overtaken by development farther west simply “didn’t materialize,” Glass said.

With the holidays right around the corner, the mall’s future appears bright.

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