2012-02-10 / Front Page

Simi Town Center loses another two

Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister leaving mall at end of March
By Carissa Marsh

CLOSING ITS DOORS—Hollister, a retail clothing chain, will close its location at the Simi Valley Town Center by the end of March. 
WENDY PIERRO/Acorn Newspapers CLOSING ITS DOORS—Hollister, a retail clothing chain, will close its location at the Simi Valley Town Center by the end of March. WENDY PIERRO/Acorn Newspapers Adding to the slew of shuttered shops at Simi Valley Town Center, Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister will be closing their doors by the end of March.

“We are saddened to see the stores close and with them employment opportunities at the Town Center . . . that could be filled by Simi Valley residents,” said Assistant City Manager Brian Gabler, director of economic development for the city. “It’s unfortunate that the chain as a whole has been doing poorly.”

The impending closures represent more than just a potential blow to sales.

“We’re more concerned with the 100 or so people that are going to lose their jobs, so we’re going to set up a job fair at the end of the month,” said Town Center General Manager Jeff DiJulius, who joined the mall’s team in May.

DiJulius said he wants to do what he can to ensure that those part-time and full-time employees, and especially managers, are able to find new jobs.

“I’d like to see them stay in the shopping center (but) . . . we’ll invite as many outside vendors as we can,” he said.

Abercrombie & Fitch— the parent company for both Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister— has closed more than 100 stores since 2010. According to a fourth-quarter 2011 business update released by the company, the brands are simply performing better in the international market.

But DiJulius said A&F and Hollister were doing well at the Town Center: Their sales were up from last year.

As reported by Hollister to the Town Center at the end of 2011, sales were 27 percent ahead of 2010. For December alone, sales were up 15 percent.

Likewise, Abercrombie & Fitch saw sales increase 39 percent in 2011, and December sales were up 51 percent from the previous year.

Since the entire Town Center saw sales rise in 2011, DiJulius is hopeful the closures won’t have a severe impact on the mall.

“I would like to see the Abercrombie and Hollister customer maybe go to some of the other stores in the shopping center,” he said.

“Your core retailers are still here, and they seem to be working a lot harder to try to get as many sales as they can here,” DiJulius added. “Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister were very, very important stores here; I think the other merchants are going to pick up the slack on that.”

Rocky road for Town Center

Still, the closures come at a time when the mall seems more like a ghost town than the bustling town center it was envisioned to be.

The 612,000- square- foot outdoor mall celebrated its grand opening in October 2005. The development was long-awaited by many, but while still in its infancy the Town Center began to encounter obstacles.

First was the loss of one of its anchors, Robinsons- May. Macy’s acquired the May Department Stores Company in 2006, leaving the center with two Macy’s.

Another blow came in the form of local competition, in particular the 2008 renovation and expansion of The Oaks in Thousand Oaks, which secured a Nordstrom department store.

Over the years, the Town Center has said goodbye to several top retailers: Coach, American Eagle, Cache, Forever 21 and PacSun.

While the mall performed “quite well” at the beginning, Gabler said, a combination of factors brought the center where it is today.

Chief among them: the economy.

“Today, seven years later, retailing has changed,” Gabler said. “You have strong, very credit-worthy businesses that went out of business that were in the Simi Valley mall, and you have a rent structure in 2005 that is totally different in 2012 or 2013 going forward,” he said. “So there’s a lot of factors that go into it, including the shopping habits of the community and what they want to purchase.”

Though no business has gone untouched by the recession, residents walking through the center seeing the dark storefronts can’t help wonder, “Is the mall dying?”

Gabler says no, “it’s in a transition period.”

DiJulius also has reason to be optimistic. Again he points to sales numbers.

Sales in 2011 were up 7 percent over 2010. And the holiday season saw large gains: 20 percent in October, 19 percent in November and 23 percent in December.

Thanks to “beautiful” weather, January 2012 is also looking to come in as a good month.

“That’s a sign of health,” Di- Julius said. “Any time there’s an increase in sales, that’s how we determine the health of a shopping center.”

Last year saw the opening of Alto Shoes, Luna Blu Frozen Yogurt Cafe, Munchie’s, Simi Subs and E-Z Home. The Simi Valley Art Association gallery, ARTS Performance Academy and the Veterans of Foreign Wars poster exhibit also bring more people to the center. Currently, the mall is 86 percent occupied.

“Everybody wants 100 percent but 86 percent is great. I think our leasing people are doing an outstanding job,” DiJulius said.

Plans for renewal

Simi Valley Town Center, formerly owned by Ohio-based Forest City Enterprises, sold in December 2010. The property was purchased by a venture that includes Walton Street Capital LLC, a private equity real estate investment firm in Chicago, and Alberta Development Partners, a real estate developer and investor in Denver.

Don Provost, founding partner of Alberta, gave a presentation to the City Council in May 2011 about the developer’s vision for the mall. Formal redevelopment plans have now been submitted to the city for review, said DiJulius.

“They spent the year redoing the plans—seeing what made sense, listening to what the community . . . the city . . . and . . . our merchants were saying,” he said.

Gabler said city staff is continuing to work with the new owners and looks forward to helping them “reposition” the mall. Though he couldn’t divulge specific details, DiJulius said Alberta is ready and able to transform the Town Center.

“They’ve taken old existing shopping centers (where) time has passed them by and they’ve turned them into magnificent lifestyle centers.”

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