CHICAGO (WLS) — As shoppers get ready for the holiday season, the I-Team is updating its investigation into empty storefronts and finding how some are being filled in Chicago’s world-famous, downtown district.
Now, one shopping center said it is almost back at capacity.
They invited the I-Team inside to show us how they did it, as many empty storefronts continue to struggle.
“My brand is about the experience. An experiential brand, the sensation, the smell. You have to pick it up and sniff it,” explained local business owner Reggie Hathorn, who opened up his candle and fragrance storefront in the 900 North Michigan shops just months ago during the pandemic.
While other retail spaces are struggling, the 900 North shopping mall is full.
“I think it has a sense of community. They do good business here [and] the quality of the shopper is high” said 900 North spokesperson Stacy Kolios.
She added that their shops are at 98% occupancy.
In October, the I-Team uncovered the huge spike in vacancy rates, many occurring during the pandemic as storefronts fled Chicago’s downtown shopping district.
On the Mag Mile, there’s more than a 19% vacancy rate, which is up from about 11% in 2019.
So why did the businesses come here?
“Truthfully, we worked with them. We understand where they are as a business and we see opportunity to grow. We work with them on the leasing side and opening side,” Kolios said.
During the pandemic, they’ve worked with businesses on the rent. They’ve also recently brought in five new stores and worked with existing stores on expansion opportunities.
The Bloomingdales Home Store literally expanded its footprint into the former mall floor area. Then they added food.
“A 20,000 square foot food hall — Astor Hall — was added,” Kolios said.
She added that there are now cocktails available while shopping, a recent remodel and an in-house stylist. There are also different concepts, like virtual golfing at Top Golf. All are helping to keep shoppers spending in-person.
The 900 Shop’s strategy of bringing more experiences is also being used to try to fill many of the vacancies on Michigan Avenue. Many of which, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce said were happening even before the pandemic due to online shopping.
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