In 1954, while teens in poodle skirts were rocking around the clock with Bill Haley and the Comets, and Marlon Brando was about to nab his first Oscar for On the Waterfront, a new kind of shopping center was making its debut in Yonkers. When it opened on April 28, 1954, the Cross County Shopping Center was the first large-scale shopping center in Westchester, and one of the most ambitious open-air shopping centers in the nation. Built by county resident Sol Atlas, with financial backing from Scarsdale businessman Leonard Marx Sr., the center began with some 30 stores and quickly expanded to include nearly 100 shops including anchors such as Gimbels and Wanamaker.
Sixty years later, the Cross County Shopping Center is still going strong, recently kicking off its year-long anniversary celebration with an event attended by nearly 100 regional business leaders—as well as an Elvis Presley impersonator in a 1954 Mercury convertible.
To find out what it takes to remain in business through six decades, we spoke to Liz Pollack, the Center’s senior manager of marketing.
Liz Pollack, senior manager of marketing at Cross County
Q: Sixty years is a lifetime in retail. What has been the key to the Cross County Shopping Center’s staying power over the years?
A: Cross County Shopping Center has an ideal location that serves a dense and diverse market. Our leasing teams have been strategic in providing a merchandise mix that our shoppers and the marketplace want to see. Our goal has always been to find the best mix [of restaurants, retailers, and entertainment] that will complement the existing center.
Q: The Cross County was renovated substantially over the last few years—what were some of the key changes made, and why? What has the result been?
A: The Center has been completely transformed to include a fresh look, new customer amenities, children’s play areas, and garden seating. Since the renovation, we have also updated our merchandise mix to include national and international retailers such as Zara, Steve Madden, Swarovski, and H&M. We have seen steady increase in both sales and traffic including new growth in residential areas such as Bronxville, Scarsdale, Eastchester, and White Plains.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges the Center faced, and how were those challenges addressed and overcome?
A: Naturally it was a challenging to renovate and expand during difficult economic times… so we created a plan that would allow us to continue the development and leasing efforts in phases.
Q: What has changed the most about retail since the Center first opened?
Retail is ever evolving and shifting to meet the demands of shoppers. Today, our shoppers are savvy and have technology that amplifies the shopping experience. Cross County has embraced this digital technology and we’ve become active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, plus the Mobile App. We’ve also added more educational and entertaining elements such as our SummerFest programming.
Q: What will the next 60 years hold for the Center?
We look to build the center and continue to partner with the city, our retailers, and our shoppers. This year two new restaurants, Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse, will open, along with popular fro-yo Red Mango. In 2015, [hotel] Hyatt Place Yonkers will open, adding another new and diverse layer to the guest experience at Cross County.