WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Erickson’s Hush Puppies is saying goodbye to Hanes Mall after 24 years as a retailer at the mall, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
Owners Bill Erickson, and his wife, Pam, have decided to close the store after a significant decrease in sales in recent years. Merchandise in the store, which is expected to close by July 1, is currently 20 to 50 percent off.
Bill Erickson cited several reasons for the drop off in sales, but believes the primary factor is the changing demographics and the tenant mix at the mall.
“They have brought in a lot of stores that cater to kids — younger people — and that’s not my business,” he said.
Hanes Mall management could not be reached for comment.
Erickson also believes that traffic for his type of customer, typically between 40 and 70 years old, is down considerably at the mall.
He said he watched 100 people walk by his store at the mall one day and only three of them, in his opinion, were shoppers that might walk in his store.
“Malls in general, I think, are hurting,” Erickson said. “It’s just the cycle of the way people shop.”
In Greensboro, Four Seasons Town Centre recently lost its Belk anchor store. Belk opened a store in High Point in March and has started renovations on its location at Friendly Center and construction on a home goods store across the street.
Several experts say that enclosed malls are in trouble, but the International Council of Shopping Centers said that malls overall are in better shape than they have been in years.
Howard Davidowitz, the chairman of Davidowitz & Associates Inc., a New York-based national retail consulting and investment banking firm, said that no enclosed malls have been built in about six years.
“The bottom line is that a lot of malls are closing,” he said.
Davidowitz said that middle-level malls, typically those that have two anchors and cater to the middle class, are faring worse because the middle class “is getting crushed.”
He said, based on government data, five years ago, one out of 12 people were in poverty, while one out of six people are in poverty today.
“More people are not looking for jobs than have gotten jobs,” he said. “And the jobs that are available are part-time jobs.”
Davidowitz said that middle class customers are probably shopping away from malls at mall outlets, which are doing well, and discount stores where they can buy cheaper merchandise.
The winners in the mall industry are the upper-end malls, the ones that typically have five or so anchors, including upscale retailers such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, he said.
He doesn’t believe malls are catering to young people because a lot of junior apparel chains are closing a good number of their stores. He said there is a high unemployment rate for young people in the country, and he believes that they tend to shop online more than other age groups.
But he said that stores such as Forever 21 and H&M, both of which are at Hanes Mall, are highly successful and that young people like to shop at both retailers because Forever 21 and H&M offer fashionable and affordable merchandise.
America’s Research Group, based in Charleston, S.C., has offered a Christmas survey for years. In 2000, when the company’s survey respondents were asked if they planned to shop in an enclosed mall during the Christmas season, more than half of Americans said, “yes.” But last year, just 26 percent answered “yes” to the question.
“After September 11 (2001), we noticed that a third of Americans reduced their shopping dramatically,” said Britt Beemer, chairman and founder of America’s Research Group. “And ever since then we’ve seen what I consider to be a serious deterioration in the number of shoppers going into malls.”
He sees that trend continuing, saying that in most months when his company does surveys, 23 percent of consumers in the country walked into a mall within the previous month, while 76 percent of Americans walked into a Walmart for the same period.
But Jesse Tron, a spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers, said that enclosed malls in the country are doing quite well.
“Occupancy rates are back to prerecession levels, sales are doing very well, last year ended at the highest dollar figure in terms of sales per square foot that we’ve seen since we began tracking the metric in ’96,” Tron said. “Net operating income is doing well and rental rates are also rising.”
Based on the council’s data, Tron said that malls are seeing a variety of age groups across the board shopping in malls.
At Hanes Mall, Erickson said that the center’s management did ask him to stay and offered him some concessions, including a drop in his rent.
Erickson had worked 22 years in the shoe industry for an independent shoe company in Clearwater, Fla., when he said Wolerine World Wide, the parent company of Hush Puppies, called him about opening his own store in North Carolina.
He moved his family to Winston-Salem and opened Erickson’s Hush Puppies in 1990. The store sells a variety of shoes, including Hush Puppies, Merrell and Clark.
Erickson’s Hush Puppies has won many awards, including being honored by Wolverine for generating the most sales of its Hush Puppies Shoes stores in the United States in 2001, and for being Wolverine’s No. 1 top-volume store in the country in 2003.
“We sold 792 Merrills in one day,” Erickson said of a feat in the late 1990s. “That is a record.”
He said that since the Richard E. Jacobs Group Inc. sold Hanes Mall to CBL & Associates Properties Inc. in 2001 there have been some good changes at the mall, most importantly a remodel of the building. But, he said that some promotions are no longer held at the mall.
He recalled a lot of activities such as wedding, boat, art and car shows in earlier years.
“Things that brought people to the mall and they stayed,” Erickson said. “They brought husbands, wives, families. There was something almost every weekend.”
He also believes that because more stores now than in the past have their own outside entrances, people don’t walk throughout the mall as much as they once did.
“I’d love t be able to stay but it just can’t be done,” he said. “I wish them luck.”
As for his future, Erickson plans to keep operating his Be Shoes store at Thruway Shopping cCnter, which he said is doing terrific business. Be Shoes offers 32 brands, including Clark and Merrell.
“I will add Hush Puppies,” Erickson said.
Customers said they were sad that the store was closing.
“I’m discouraged because it was one store where we knew we could get quality shoes and quality service in the mall,” said Carolyn Myracle of Pfafftown. “I felt like it was locally owned and that’s a good thing to support.”
Myracle, who has been a customer for about 20 years, said she typically visits the mall just to buy shoes from Erickson’s store.
Jane Allen of Tobaccoville said she’s not upset because she also shops at Be Shoes.
“As long as he carries my Merrell’s, I’ll be fine,” Allen said.