The Future of Retail

Its impending demise many be greatly exaggerated

By Ann Craig-Cinnamon

If you believe the headlines in recent years, the brick and mortar retail industry is in a death spiral.   A Business Insider story in December of 2019 referred to it as the “retail apocalypse” and pointed to more than 9300 store closures nationwide last year.  Stores such as Payless Shoes, Family Dollar, Gap and even Walgreen’s either shut down completely or closed a massive number of stores.  There are entire malls in the Indianapolis area that are ghost towns.

Of course, all fingers point directly at online retail as the villain.  Analysis of the Commerce Department’s year end retail sales numbers by Digital Commerce shows 16% of all retail sales were done online in the US in 2019; up almost 15% from the year before.

So what’s with all the new store construction in Hamilton County? Of course there are strip malls with vacancies and old Marsh stores still awaiting revitalization, but there’s a lot of new stores being built too. 

New Retail Openings

If you frequent the Hamilton Town Center area, you can’t miss the massive building going up to the west near Cabela’s.  Must be warehouse space, I thought, until the signs went up for Michael’s, Marshall’s, Burlington Coat Factory and Petco. 

Who would build new retail in this climate?  McCrea Property Group, a retail leasing management company with nearly 100 shopping centers in Central Indiana in its portfolio, is the developer of the new Plaza at Saxony MarketPlace.   

Senior Leasing Associate Keith Fried says that the site in Noblesville was not a tough sell, describing retail here as very strong.  “Hamilton County, not only is it dense but there’s high incomes.  You have the spendable incomes which is what retailers are looking for.  In today’s world the discount stores have become more chic.  It’s not looked down on to shop discount like it used to be,” he says, adding that they went after discount stores that were lacking in the area when developing the new site.  “That discount segment is extremely strong right now and those particular retailers are very healthy,” says Fried. 

On the opposite end of the county, Carmel is flush in retail sales too. Columbus, Ohio-based Washington Prime Group is planning a major renovation of Clay Terrace at 146th St. and US31 that includes some new uses along with 70,000 square feet of new retail.

Clay Terrace General Manager Jennifer Jones points out that among the outdoor mall’s 70 occupants there is a mix of national, regional and even local businesses with several additions announced recently, such as Sephora.  Jones says despite the dramatic transformation of the retail industry in recent years, 90% of sales still happen in a physical store. 

“Within our community specifically we have seen that Hamilton County residents are a top target demographic for many retailers, therefore our area often falls into retailer expansion plans. We also understand the importance of creating an exciting guest experience, which is why we provide a dynamic mix of options for the community to eat, shop, and play at Clay Terrace,” she says.

Retail’s Impact

Clay Terrace gets special recognition from Hamilton County Tourism, Inc., along with Hamilton Town Center, as being an important component in the tourism dynamic.  “Retail is a critical part of HC’s tourism success, but it is not considered an attractor. We believe it adds to our success because having retail as an option keeps the visitor in the county,” says Hamilton County Tourism Communications Manager Whitney Riggs.  She cites as examples Clay Terrace and Greyhound Pass being positively impacted by the addition of Grand Park in Westfield. Similarly, Hamilton Town Center with Ruoff Music Center in Noblesville. 

There is a very interesting statistic that Hamilton County Tourism monitors.  Of all the people who visit Hamilton County in a day trip, 31% visit Clay Terrace, 25% visit Hamilton Town Center and 15% visit IKEA in Fishers.

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