Jun 14, 2009
Malls court smaller, private retailers on temporary leasesBy Doris HajewskiJSOnline.com

Merchandise isn’t the only thing on sale at the malls these days. Good deals abound on all that space left vacant by bankrupt national retailers, and locals are seizing the opportunities.

Some are start-ups, like the short-lived fish pedicure shop at Mayfair Mall in Wauwatosa. Others are moving from neighborhood locations, as Board Game Barrister did, shutting down a store in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood in favor of a space at Bayshore Town Center in Glendale.

“Virtually every mall in the region has asked me to open a store,” said Gordon Lugauer, owner of Board Game Barrister.

In good times, it was struggling malls that were most likely to pursue locals vigorously to fill vacant space. Top malls were more apt to recruit small local businesses to rent carts and kiosks, especially during the Christmas season. Now every mall has vacancies, and they are in hot pursuit of small retailers to fill their space.

The vacancy rate for regional malls in the United States was 7.9% in the first quarter of this year, according to Reis Inc., a New York real estate research firm. That compares with 5.3% in the first quarter of 2005, and 5.9% at the same time last year.

“The mom-and-pop is now king,” said Heidi A. Maybruck, a Columbus, Ohio, real estate agent who handles temporary and cart leasing for Steiner & Associates, the operator of Bayshore. Maybruck has been in the business for 20 years, serving a variety of mall owners, and she remembers a time when successful malls weren’t that interested in taking the time to cultivate small start-ups.

Both Maybruck and Jill Werner, who handles kiosk and temporary leasing for Mayfair, said they enjoy helping small retailers get started, and helping them grow.

“I call it entrepreneurial leasing,” Maybruck said. “You take this upstart company, a mom and pop working in a garage, and you hand-hold them.”

Werner, who also does temp leases at General Growth’s Fox River Mall in Appleton, said the economy has made her work more challenging.

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