Dillard's to close mall site in N.C.

Dillard's Inc. is closing a store in a North Carolina shopping mall that has already lost Macy's, Sears and J.C. Penney stores.

A notice to 84 employees at the Dillard's location in Cary went out Friday under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. Documents filed with North Carolina's Department of Commerce list a Sept. 13 date for the store's closure.

A spokesman for the Little Rock-based department store chain said in an email Tuesday that "it is not unusual for us to close locations from time to time and make market adjustments where appropriate." So far this year, the spokesman said, Dillard's has closed stores in Muskogee, Okla., and Boardman, Ohio.

Malls across the U.S. continue to struggle as customers find other ways to shop.

In addition to the closure in North Carolina, the company has announced that a store at Oakwood Mall in Enid, Okla., will close around the end of the year. Also, a Dillard's store will close Aug. 3 at the Mall of the Bluffs in Council Bluffs, Iowa, where it had been an anchor store since 1988.

Dillard's currently operates 289 stores in 29 states, the spokesman said.

At its annual shareholders meeting in May, Dillard's Chief Executive Officer William Dillard II noted the retailer had payed off $248 million in long-term debt since January 2018, and it has bought back 1.7 million shares of Class A common stock since last year's annual meeting. However, he admitted, "Mall-based retailing is going through a difficult time. Our job is to be open next year. We're going to be one of the leaders and still get to play tomorrow."

Dillard's shares closed Tuesday at $67.20, up $1.66, or 2.53%, on the New York Stock Exchange. Its shares have traded between $53.96 and $94.03 in the past year.

Dillard's stores often anchor mall property, as they do at Pinnacle Hills Promenade in Rogers, Northwest Arkansas Mall in Fayetteville and Park Plaza mall in Little Rock. However, real estate tracking by Coresight Research found in mid-April that U.S. retailers had announced plans to close 5,994 stores and open 2,641. In all of 2018, 5,864 store closures were announced and 3,239 stores opened.

Traditional mall retailers closing stores recently include Payless ShoeSource, Gymboree, Charlotte Russe, Victoria's Secret, The Gap and Forever 21.

A report by data analytics firm Thasos suggests that foot traffic at malls anchored by department stores peaked in August of last year and has been falling since. Part of the reason may be that "the format is structurally disadvantaged," said Steve Dennis, president and co-founder of SageBerry Consulting LLC. The nature of the mall format means it's "not responsive to customer demands [and] trends and difficult to shift," he said.

Cary Towne Center, the North Carolina mall, was purchased in February by Turnbridge Equities and Denali Properties, and the new owners have plans to draw traffic once again. According to a rezoning request, their preliminary redevelopment plan includes adding office space, residential units and a hotel to the mall property.

Greg Petro, president and chief executive of First Insight, said in an April article for Forbes that this ability to evolve "to stay connected to the zeitgeist" is the hallmark of successful malls. "Shopping malls must continue to transform to survive the generational changes," he said. "As with so many other areas of retail and beyond, it's evolve or die."

Business on 07/17/2019

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