Sunrise Mall Faces Impacts

Citrus Heights, CA (MPG)  |  Story and Photo by Jacqueline Fox
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“What I can say is that I’m very excited by what I’ve seen so far,” said Car-penter. She pointed out that what does happen next for Sunrise Mall will im-pact, not only its retailers and their employees, but all BID stakeholders.

Store Closures, Local and Cultural Shopping Shifts

With new management and development plans in play, as well as the closing of several smaller retailers and potential closure of Sears, Macy’s and even JCPenney looming, all eyes are on the future of Sunrise Mall, which, like many enclosed malls nationwide, is struggling for survival due in part to growing competition from online retailers, but also demand for so-called “power centers” offering outdoor shopping, dining and entertainment “experiences.”

Enclosed shopping malls, many built in the 1970s, have been shutting down for several years, earning the moniker of “Dead Malls” as their big-box anchor stores like Sears, Macy’s and JCPenney have packed up and left due to shrinking foot traffic amidst rising online retail competition, most currently from companies such as Amazon. The three stores announced a collective closure of some 300 locations this year with more to follow. Additionally, Kmart announced it will close 108 stores.

Although Sears, Macy’s and JCPenney remain open at Sunrise Mall, the mass closures, many industry followers predict, have essentially pre-written their company obituaries. To combat diminishing in-store sales, JCPenney restructured its focus in late 2016, moving in on Sears’ territory with the announcement it would begin selling home appliances in time for the holiday shopping season. JCP’s Sephora “shop-in-shops” and coupon-driven sales are believed to be fueling strong quarterly sales for the company, but it’s not clear whether the push into appliances can have any long-term impact.

Big box retailers aside, a number of smaller stores in Sunrise Mall have also closed over the last few years, leaving prime locations, two adjacent to Sears and as many as three located in the mall’s entryway, vacant. Most recently, Pennsylvania-based teen retailer Rue 21 announced plans to shutter 400 of its stores due to declining foot traffic. The Sunrise Mall location is currently in liquidation mode and believed to be set for closure within the month.

“We don’t how long we have to stay open exactly, probably about a month,” said one sales associate at Rue 21 who did not want to disclose her name.

It’s not only that shoppers have stopped spending their money in stores and now buy everything online. In fact, the decline of the enclosed mall has been ongoing for years nationwide, as many are being replaced with so-called “power centers,” offering upscale and fast-casual eateries, multi-cinema movie theaters, outdoor strolling space and even park-like play areas for families, typically anchored by retail darlings Target and Best Buy.

Take the Westfield Galleria at Roseville, for example, one of the largest and busiest malls in Northern California with 240 shops and restaurants, which include high-end stores like Tiffany & Co., Nordstrom, Juicy Couture and Lucky Brand Jeans, supported by the adjacent Fountains at Roseville, touted online as a “Lifestyle Center” offering shops and scores of restaurants.

“Things have definitely been on the downward trend here,” says Mathew Kramer, who manages a small retail store in Sunrise Mall but requested not to identify the store per company policy. Kramer has worked at Sunrise for nine years, but also remembers when the mall was built, back when it was the place to meet up with friends. Millennials, however, and those in the generation behind them have significantly different designs on how to spend their money and the experience they have doing it. Apparently, so do their parents.

“I grew up riding my bike to this mall, or walking to the bowling alley across the street for field trips,” said Kramer. “It used to be the place I’d go with my friends, but now everyone wants to shop online or they go to Roseville to be outside. They want to have that whole entertainment experience.”

New York-based Spinoso Real Estate Group took over management of the mall in 2016 and is reported to be working on long-range development plans for Sunrise. The company’s web site lists the development of retail power centers among its project resume.

Calls to Spinoso’s corporate offices for comment on its plans for Sunrise, as well as requests for data on first quarter occupancy rates and foot traffic were not returned. But it doesn’t take hard numbers to confirm the slowdown. On any given day, the vast majority of parking spots not directly in front of the main entrance to the mall on Sunrise Boulevard sit vacant. In addition to the half a dozen or so closed shops inside, several retail kiosks dotting the mall’s center corridor also are vacant.

Kathilynn Carpenter is executive director of the Sunrise Marketplace Business Improvement District (BID), which is comprised of some 400 stores, restaurants and services located along the Sunrise Boulevard and Greenback Lane business corridor, including the mall. She agreed Sunrise is struggling amidst a changing demand for something beyond long, enclosed rows of shops and a shift toward online shopping. She is privy to some of the planning for Sunrise and did say “improvements” were involved, but Carpenter declined to elaborate on what those plans look like.

“It is true that many of the retailers are overstocked and now that issue is coming home to roost,” said Carpenter. She added that the trend is focused on what she termed “experiential” shopping options, but declined to say if Spinoso was planning on one of its power centers for the mall.

“What I can say is that I’m very excited by what I’ve seen so far,” said Carpenter, before downplaying any wholesale demise of the mall. She pointed out that what does happen next for Sunrise Mall will impact, not only its retailers and their employees, but all BID stakeholders.

“I can tell you that everyone who is a member of the BID has the best interest of the mall mind,” Carpenter said.

Citrus Heights City Manager Chris Boyd has said publicly that the city is “retail heavy,” adding that Spinoso’s long-term plans for the mall are going to be a game-changer that may potentially involve a mixed-use development with housing and retail.

On Monday, Boyd declined to discuss Spinoso’s plans. “I’ve got nothing new to add yet, but I know the new owners have some exciting ideas on the table,” he said.