Is retail real estate really dead? It’s true that online shopping has dealt major blows to traditional brick-and-mortar retailers. But while consumers are eager to skip simple errands with a point and click, there’s still demand for business models that require consumers to be physically present. As recent developments in Westchester real estate suggest, businesses that focus on providing consumers with a unique and engaging experience can secure a place in the future of retail.
“While online shopping is not going away, consumers will still travel to a brick-and-mortar location if they feel it is worth it and it is not something they can do at a computer,” explains Sarah Jones-Maturo, President of prominent tri-state area real-estate firm RM Friedland. “For example, there is still demand for experiences such as going out to eat, dance classes, and other forms of exercise. These types of tenants could usher in the future of Westchester’s downtowns and revitalize the demand for retail space.”
In recent months, RM Friedland has overseen transactions for multiple “experiential” retail properties. During August and September, two new tenants—a high-end squash court and a new branch of the Greenwich Ballet Academy—leased properties at the Waterfront in Port Chester. The Waterfront occupies a bustling downtown area, home to many popular restaurants and the iconic Capitol Theater. Despite the shopping center’s attractive location, two of its retail units stood vacant for over a year before RM Friedland successfully leased them to the squash court and dance studio.
The Ballet Academy wasn’t the first dance studio to lease a property through RM Friedland last quarter. In August, Fancy Feet Enterprises, based in the Bronx, opened its first Westchester location at a former bank branch office in Mount Vernon. The new studio signals further potential for NYC businesses to successfully expand into Westchester.
Beth White, Vice President of RM Friedland’s retail division and a broker for the Waterfront transactions, says the firm plans to continue pursuing the experiential retail trend in upcoming projects. “Westchester has always been rich with retail opportunities and is attractive to retailers that are looking to create new concepts,” White says. “Our closed deals with tenants have featured sports arenas for indoor tennis and fit boxing. We are also working on some really fun experiential restaurant and food concept deals, ones that will integrate food and entertainment.” Restaurants, he adds, have become a big part of Westchester’s culture, and “there is definitely space for cool NYC and national restaurateurs to expand here.”
White cites Yonkers’ Cross County Mall as an existing example of a successful experiential retail center in Westchester—its convenience and outdoor amenities elevate it from a place to run errands to an enjoyable, family-friendly destination, he says. Mixed-use buildings can meet multiple needs at once, White explains—having daycare centers, supermarkets, and after-school activities all in one location is a promising prospect for parents.
The shift towards experiential retail in Westchester downtowns has strong attractive potential for young adult consumers too. As NYC prices grow ever higher, RM Friedland brokers foresee an influx of new Westchester residents who will be drawn to the county’s convenience and relative affordability. To prepare for this shift, White predicts that developers will focus on satisfying the demand for innovative retail experiences that meet modern needs, including WiFi connectivity and accessibility for pedestrians and cyclists.
“We are proud to be a leader in Westchester’s retail evolution,” White says. “It’s so exciting to see what is already happening here.”