Recovery in sight for U.S. shopping malls

A woman walks past a sale sign in a mall. Strong holiday sales and efforts on the part of stores to bring customers in has helped mall vacancies improve in the last few months.

Steve Chiotakis: A sign the nation's economic health may be continuing to improve -- the real estate data company Reis reported today vacancies at shopping centers were down at the end of 2011. It's the first time that's happened in four years.

Let's talk about this change in direction. Faith Hope Consolo is chairman of Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate. She's with us now from New York with the latest on that. Hey Faith.

Faith Hope Consolo: Hi.

Chiotakis: So I'm thinking these mall vacancies have been on the climb since 2007. You see the list of all the dead malls, you know -- how do you explain this uptick?

Consolo: We saw an incredible retail rebound last year. We saw it across the board, all over the country, on the Main Streets. And I think the rollover was into the malls. I think one of the reasons is there hasn't been much mall development in the last three to five years, and there were vacancies.

And across the board, the upscale malls didn't suffer all that much and I think there was a lot of demand from local retailers, national retailers, and international retailers. And I think that combined with two strong Christmas seasons -- we are back in place. And malls are looking forward to doing more expansion and development now; we have a healthy occupancy.

Chiotakis: Is the shopping mall back, Faith?

Consolo: Yes, I do think the shopping mall is back. I think people have gone back out. I think they were scared with the gas prices. This is a country of shopaholics, and the consumer got back into their car and they drove to the mall and they went shopping.

A lot of department stores -- Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom, J.C. Penney's -- they all renovated and they were very giving; very attractive sales. And that brought the consumer back. So I think it was a combination of the owners, the developers and the retailers working together to recapture that customer.

Chiotakis: Faith Hope Consolo from Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate. Faith, always good to talk to you.

Consolo: All right, bye bye.

About the author

Steve Chiotakis was the host of Marketplace Morning Report until January 2012.

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