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Nordstrom Rack: Death Knell for Area Malls?

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Crowds gather at a Nordstrom Rack opening in Houston.
As all St. Louis shopaholics certainly know, today is the grand opening of the region's first Nordstrom Rack, the off-price warehouse of the famous department store.

The retailer welcomed customers about two hours ago to its store in Brentwood Square. For non-shoppers: If you thought parking in that strip mall (home to REI, Whole Foods, Borders, The Container Store, Pier 1, etc.) was hellish before, it's only bound to get worse with the addition of the highly anticipated Rack.

That issue, and an illuminating blog post about St. Louis Centre over at Vanishing STL, got me thinking about the impact Nordstrom Rack might have on other area shopping centers. Author Paul Hohmann writes for Vanishing STL how -- contrary to popular belief these days -- St. Louis Centre was actually successful in pulling area shoppers back from the suburbs to downtown. And the impact wasn't just for a year or two.

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Comedian Bob Hope helped open St. Louis Centre in 1985.
St. Louis Centre was the mall in St. Louis for the second half of the 1980s. Helping that fact was that in addition to Union Station (which also opened downtown in 1985), St. Louis Centre was the first new mall built in the region for nearly a decade and brought with it many retailers that had never operated in St. Louis -- Abercrombie & Fitch, Sharper Image.

Hohmann argues that two things eventually killed the mall:

1. To cut construction costs, delivery docks at St. Louis Centre weren't built underground but instead in the middle of the mall's first floor. That architectural flaw killed of street-level retail and traffic flow inside the mall.

2. The old Westroads Mall (c. 1955) was fully transformed into the Galleria in 1991 and almost immediately began siphoning off shoppers from St. Louis Centre and other malls. 

So, can we expect that the Nordstrom Rack will have the same impact on the Galleria? Probably not. Though it is worth noting that the Galleria was originally slated to have a regular Nordstrom years ago. That project has been delayed and delayed with the department store now saying it will open in the Galleria in September of next year.

Meanwhile, the Galleria has yet to fill the massive storefront that once housed Mark Shale. That space is now being used to house BODIES, a temporary exhibit of plasticized human cadavers. Hard to imagine a more fitting metaphor for a dying mall than that -- IMHO.


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