Despite challenges from a robust e-commerce economy and the continuing pandemic recovery, area malls and shopping centers have remained mostly resilient — and still serve as popular places to gather, shop, eat, and be entertained.
It has not been easy, though, with retailers adapting to changes in consumer habits, along with persistent warnings about the decline of malls in general. In response, many well-worn shopping meccas are adapting to the new realities. Some even shut down entirely to prepare for redevelopment, as is the case for the former White Plains Mall and the Galleria.
Jonathan Gordon, CEO of Admiral Real Estate Services Corp., a commercial real estate agency in Bronxville, has had a front seat to the local retail landscape for the past 27 years. Gordon thinks that open-air shopping areas have a particularly bright future; as for traditional indoor malls, he says that in order to lure more consumer traffic, they must cater to trends that began even before COVID and continue to respond to the demands of today’s customers.
“Shoppers are looking for more of an experiential shopping experience — almost a backlash against internet purchases,” says Gordon. “The malls not only have to make shoppers feel safe with air that is clear and purified; they need to do things to bring in potential consumers so that they will patronize the retail stores, like maybe have concerts and events in the common areas.”
Whether they are new-fangled spaces for socialization and amusement or simply exist as destinations to browse and buy, malls are part of the fabric of the community in Westchester. Here’s a look at a few of our favorite spots, including a peek at what is in store for a new generation of mall rats.
For many families, Legoland Discovery Center is the reason they head to Ridge Hill, but they then stay to check out the open-air town square that is built on the hill in Northern Yonkers.
The outdoor complex, a 1.2-million-square-foot property set on 74 acres, was acquired by North American Properties Group, a company that partnered with Nuveeen Real Estate and Taconic Partners to transform the space into “a true outdoor-lifestyle shopping center,” according to Morgan Liesenfelt, North American Properties Group’s director of leasing.
Ridge Hill is responding to changing consumer expectations by offering a more leisure-oriented experience.
“We have everything, from Whole Foods to Dick’s Sporting Goods to Apple, Sephora, Uniqlo, H&M — plus an LA Fitness, a Cheesecake Factory, Yard House, and Texas de Brazil,” Liesenfelt says. With parkland, playgrounds, promenades, and entertainment, Ridge Hill is responding to changing consumer expectations by offering a more leisure-oriented experience.
Beyond shopping at more than 60 retail stores, visitors can check out a rock-climbing gym, go indoor skydiving at iFly, play Monster Mini Golf, jump in a trampoline park, or see a movie at the 12-screen Showcase Cinema De Lux. The indoor golf facility, The Cup, just signed a lease to expand and is adding a kitchen to accommodate the numerous parties it hosts.
“Traffic is strong: We had over seven million visitors in 2022, which is in line with pre-pandemic numbers,” Liesenfelt says. “We just purchased the property last May, along with our partners, and there are a lot of new things to come. We are expecting to grow the restaurant additions, like Casa Fuego, a Spanish tapas restaurant opening this year, and we are also very excited about the reopening of Yonkers Comedy Club.”
The owners envision Ridge Hill as a year-round hub in the community that gives people many reasons to visit — with an ice rink on the lawn during the winter, a dog park, Yoga on the Hill, live music, a farmers’ market, and 200 other unique events at the mixed-use destination. “You can find out what is happening weekly by following our Instagram account,” says Liesenfelt.
There will certainly be a burst of pop-culture excitement at the Cross County Center this year with the opening of a 3,300-square-foot retail store by Savage X Fenty, a lingerie brand owned by singer/actor/businesswoman Rihanna.
It will be one of the newer additions to the more than 80 stores and 25 eateries at the outdoor center, which has been a favorite destination in the region for six decades and is one of the oldest open-air shopping areas in the country.
The center’s senior manager for marketing, Liz Pollack, says there is also plenty of excitement for a brand-new Target store at the property (it will be Yonkers’ first Target), with doors anticipated to open this summer.
“During the pandemic, Cross County Center signed one of the largest leases in the nation with Target, a 40-year retail lease to occupy over 130,000 square feet of retail space at what was once home to the most successful Sears stores in the nation,” says Pollack.
With free parking, children’s play areas, and its proximity to New York City, the shopping destination continues to see increases in foot traffic and reports year-round visitors totaling 14 million people.
The brick-and-mortar experience is becoming a focus for many retailers, says Pollack, with Zara, Express, and AX Armani Exchange doing renovations, adding digital messaging and self-checkout stations.
“Overall experience, sustainability, and convenience will continue to play a major role in retailers’ 2023 plans: In-store pickup, ship-to-store, home delivery, and other services will continue to grow and change,” she says. Recent additions of popular eateries have increased foot traffic to the shopping center, with the first location of Sticky’s the Chicken Joint, Bronxville-based Cookies N’ Cream, and Mito Asian Fusion, which opened right before the pandemic.
There is also a growing stream of visitors being supplied by Westchester Community College, whose campus at the Cross County Center expanded in the fall of 2022, growing from 13,000 to 40,000 square feet on the third floor of what will be the new Target building.
The student population, which numbers in excess of 3,000, will join the mix of the shopping center’s customer base as its management group strives to expand the property’s uses with special events, like Zumba classes, concerts, art installations, and seasonal activities.
Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the Palisades Center is well-known to Westchesterites as a quick trip over the bridge, into Rockland County’s West Nyack, for a supersized indoor mall experience.
The massive complex offers four levels and more than 2.2 million square feet of shopping, 16 sit-down restaurants, and entertainment venues that include an NHL-size skating rink, a bowling alley, the world’s tallest indoor ropes course, a comedy club, a 21-screen movie theater, an indoor racetrack, and more.
As for new additions to the mall this year, shoppers can look forward to a new Urban Outfitters this summer, says the Palisades Center’s digital marketing manager, Michael Mais, as well as several more interactive experiences, like Time Mission, an indoor adventure game for kids and adults, and the soon-to-open Golfzon Social, where guests can choose from more than 85 golf courses for simulated play or practice.
The mall’s 225 retail brands run the gamut, from Macy’s, H&M, and Target to independent retailers working to create a memorable experience that will attract local shoppers and tourists alike. Its sheer size has made it a desirable location for nonprofit events, meetings, and even a variety of television and feature-film productions.
With foot traffic in 2022 at 15 million (in 2019, the center welcomed more than 20 million visitors, according to Mais), the mall continues to work to bring the number of people coming on-site to pre-pandemic levels.
“We are highlighting our entertainment, food, and the movie theater,” Mais says. “We are shopping, family fun, and entertainment; that is what The Palisades Center is all about, and we just want you to make memorable moments for your family.”
For White Plains native Eve Tursky-Gherardi, the opening of the Galleria in 1980 was a significant event for the then-teenager: a place to shop, to work, and to become part of a new center for social life in the community.
“Many of my high school friends worked there at the same time. We used to hang out at Mr. Greenjeans and the restaurants on the other end. There was always something to do, plenty of shopping, and just a great, clean mall,” Tursky-Gherardi says.
With the original anchor department stores of Abraham & Straus (later Stern’s), then Macy’s, and JCPenney on the mall’s other end, then Sears, the Galleria rode the national wave of suburban-mall popularity, quickly surpassing the nearby White Plains Mall, a shopping center that was constructed in 1972 and featured favorites like McDonald’s, Noda Hibachi & Sushi restaurant, and Westchester Trains & Hobbies, among others; later, many knew it mainly as the site of a DMV office.
Both properties are now etched in Westchester history as developers re-imagine and repurpose the two sites. The Hamilton Green project underway at the location of the old White Plains Mall is an effort by developers RXR and the Cappelli Organization that includes the construction of four mixed-income multifamily residential buildings, while the era-ending shuttering of the Galleria in March is making way for a state-of-the-art conversion.
Galleria owners Pacific Retail Capital Partners (PRCP) and Aareal Bank, which bought the four-floor, 870,000-square-foot mall in 2016, have partnered with SL Green Realty and the Cappelli Organization with a plan to “turn the 10-acre Galleria site into a mixed-use development centered on residential development and amenity-based retail,” according to a statement released by PRCP CEO Steve Plenge.
Perhaps no one is more delighted for the revamping of the Galleria site and neighboring areas than White Plains mayor Tom Roach.
“As far as the future of the city, when this site is redeveloped, we are certainly going to want to see people-friendly spaces, the ability for people to walk through and just offer exciting pedestrian engagement between our main transit hub and our core entertainment area, Mamaroneck Avenue,” Roach says.
“Having more amenities for outdoor dining, hanging out outside, and connecting across the street, into Renaissance Park, with the fountains… it creates a whole new experience for our downtown, and I am excited to get to work on making that happen,” adds the mayor.
With the ambitious new-construction plans having begun, there is a sense of nostalgia arising from the excitement and buzz that is reminiscent of when the Galleria first opened. “It was a great place to shop; [it] had so many different stores, and you could find everything you ever needed,” Tursky-Gherardi remembers. “We also used to practice our driving skills, going up the circular ramp in the parking garage.”
“Upscale” and “affluence” are words that quickly come to mind upon entering The Westchester, the county’s flagship indoor shopping mall, which opened in 1995 and was renovated in 2016. Its marble and carpeted floors, skylights, and commissioned sculptures set it apart as the county’s prime destination for brand-conscious shoppers.
The high-end shopping center is an asset in the portfolio of the country’s largest mall owner, Simon Property Group, which considers it to be the ultimate retail center in the metropolitan New York region.
Being home to brands like Tiffany & Co., Burberry, Tourneau, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci, and department stores like Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, “make it the place to shop” says Maria Gregorius, director of marketing at The Westchester. Beyond the familiar name brands, The Westchester brings in exclusive selections and one-of-a-kind boutiques and businesses, she adds.
“We have a broad spectrum of retail options to meet every shopper’s needs: first-to-market retailers, such as Arhaus, Alo Yoga, and Therabody; unique offerings, like Lucid Motors [the California-based electric vehicle startup]; and family-friendly play spaces and events throughout the year,” says Gregorius, who reports that foot traffic was very strong through the holiday season, with a resurgence of visitors.
To keep shoppers engaged with the 140 stores and restaurants, the mall has added “Simon Search,” a platform that gives shoppers the ability to search in-stock products at their favorite stores through an app.
The city’s mayor is pleased as well. “It is a really well-maintained and beautiful mall, and they have a lot of retailers who are selling things people want to hold in their hands,” says Roach. “They have added approximately a dozen stores in the past year; they’ve got constant activity, with tenants reaching out — and many are making major renovations and reinvestments in their properties.”
The Jefferson Valley Mall, Yorktown’s hometown shopping center on Lee Boulevard, has deep roots in the community, having opened back in 1983. It has been home to stores like Sears, Read’s Department Store, A&S, and Service Merchandise, alongside many independent retailers.
The mall is alive and well following difficult times for its owners, Washington Prime Group, which filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2021 but has since emerged with a strong commitment to the location’s success and growth.
Today, it looks a lot different, following a renovation five years ago that brought in Ulta Beauty and Dick’s Sporting Goods (which co-anchors the mall with Macy’s). The leasing of many new specialty tenants and a calendar full of programs for the public attest to the mall’s efforts to be known as a community-center-style destination.
“We are really thinking outside the box here and that has been working for us.”
— Kelly Crapa, Specialty Leasing Manager, Jefferson Valley Mall
The Valley, or The JV Mall, as it’s sometimes called, is not looking back as it continues to reinvigorate itself in celebration of its 40th anniversary.
“We are really thinking outside the box here, and that has been working for us,” says Kelly Crapa, specialty leasing manager for the mall. “On the event side, we are excited to be doing a ton of collaborations with BG Entertainment [a sports memorabilia store] and with the chamber of commerce — like a big block party, carnival, a cornhole tournament, and even an outdoor show that will include boats and recreational vehicles.”
Inside the mall, shoppers can browse such familiar outlets as Foot Locker and H&M, plus more unique stores, like The Bubbly Pony and Cool Beans Coffee. There is a Pizzazzles for birthday parties, and an Orangetheory Fitness or 24 Hour Fitness for gym-goers — just some of the businesses that have filled vacancies in recent years.
Although Crapa admits that traffic at the mall has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, she says sales have been up since last year and believes that holding large-scale events not only benefits the community but also the full-time tenants who rely on in-person shoppers and visitors.
“The mall industry has definitely changed, especially after COVID, and the Jefferson Valley Mall is much more than a retail shopping center,” Crapa says. “You might see local moms doing exercise stroller class in the morning, or Guiding Eyes dogs being trained on the escalators, or an indoor carnival. Not every single in-line store is going to be a shopping experience; that is where the industry is heading.”