Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Daily Mall Reader: Tanforan Mall Redevelopment

A daily dose of mall-related reading...

"CASE STUDY: Tanforan Turnaround"

Retail Traffic - September 1, 2005

(Excerpt) The site of the new Shops at Tanforan in San Bruno, Calif. was a retail developer's dream.

Located five miles south of San Francisco, in an area where the average household income is $90,000, it housed an underused mall known as the Tanforan Shopping Center — a real fixer-upper.

Even though the mall was more than 30 years old and half-dark, its Sears anchor was ranked in the top five performing stores nationally, says Greg Wattson, senior vice president of the mall's redeveloper, Wattson Breevast LLC. “We knew that the customers were coming to the mall anchors,” says Wattson. “Our challenge was to make them stay longer and spend time in the mall proper.”

Read the full article here.

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Blogger Cora Buhlert said...

It sounds like it was a lovely dark old mall. And of course, they had to open it up and make it lighter. Why does everything have to be light-flooded these days anyway? The old gloomy malls had so much more atmosphere.

Tue Aug 07, 06:02:00 PM  
Blogger Cora Buhlert said...

Just saw the picture further down and it's actually quite airy and light for a 1970s mall. Wonder what their problem was.

Tue Aug 07, 06:10:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

It was never a 'dark' mall. From the beginning, it had lots of big skylights and three wonderfully colorful chandeliers in the center court.

IMHO, the problem with this mall was that it lacked an upscale store mix to attract upper middle class spenders. My parents lived in Millbrae, just south of San Bruno, and came to Tanforan to buy major appliances at Sears. But when it came to clothes shopping, they headed to Nordstrom at Stonestown, Macy's Hillsdale, or Saks, Neimans, and I Magnin at Stanford.
Even the one 'upscale' anchor, The Emporium was a terrible Emporium, lacking any style, and featuring a selection far inferior to their store at Stonestown.

Wed Aug 08, 02:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"How do you take a more-than-thirty-year-old mall and revive it, while preserving the three ongoing department stores built around it and making way for a BART station?"

ANSWER: For the love of God leave it the hell alone.

I was at Golf Mill Mall in Niles, IL yesterday and the mall was enclosed in about the sevnties and had that dark, earthy look up until recently when they started remodeling. Now the dark, brown floor is an ugly hospital color of white and grey tiles and while the skylights have been relaced and look better than the aging ones they got rid of the little lights that made the place look wonderful at night. They are adding a new crappy main entrance that doesn't do justice to the old and the food court which was a really old one looks nothing like it once did. The charm is now gone and it is the end of the world for me. Now with a new Golf Mill and the old Brickyard (which had the same dark look) completely gone I may as well hate malls forever. is there no justice in this world?

As far as Tanforan goes. Maybe that's why the devlopers got rid of the other tenants to move in more upscale, boring ones.

Wed Aug 08, 03:59:00 PM  
Blogger Scott Parsons said...

I find it humorous that people believe upscale is the answer to just about anything. "Put in a Nordstrom and world peace will prevail" they say. Silly me, I always thought it was demographics.
My personal opinion on the demise of Tanforan was that it was just a small mall and it needed to remodel. The tenant mix wasn't bad, it had a movie theatre and a really good Sears. But, the mall was just plain small and aging. Even the food court, created as an afterthought, was small and had a low ceiling.
For decades Tanforan wanted to remodel and expand. There was always something in their way. I vividly remember city council dockets on the local cable channel with Tanforan information. Nothing panned out until the next century (that is, 21st Century).
Now, I'm glad the new mall is beautiful and revived.

Wed Aug 08, 07:31:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm not saying that 'going upscale' is the answer to every troubled mall. But if you were the type of person who didn't shop at Sears or Penneys for your clothes, Tanforan offered little in the way of other options. If you were an Emporium shopper, you would've done better at their Hillsdale, Stonestown, or downtown stores where you would have some competitive choices.

Thu Aug 09, 12:40:00 AM  
Blogger Scott Parsons said...

Paul, I didn't mean to imply you were incorrect in your assessment of Tanforan; in this case, I agree with you.
What I meant, though, is that in general terms, I'm constantly hearing mall owners, managers, and city councilors using the word "upscale" to describe just about anything. Such as, "Great Mall is an upscale outlet mall." When I go to Great Mall, it looks like any other outlet mall. But, when someone adds the moniker "upscale" to it, do people suddenly think it’s better?
I've also heard shoppers say "the mall needs more upscale retailers." Do upscale retailers really make a mall better? I recall famously upscale Pottery Barn and Coach both going in at Stoneridge Mall, then exiting because no one shopped there. Of course, both those retailers have returned to the mall, only after the area added thousands of affluent residents.
I guess the real question is, what is “upscale” retail and who gets to decide what retailers join what mall?

Thu Aug 09, 01:57:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Bigmallrat, you pose some interesting questions.

In this day and age, 'budget' has a bad connotation. I'm 50 years old and I remember when The Emporium, Capwell's and the downtown Penney's all had basement stores. In New York, Macy's, Bloomingdale's, and Gimbel's had legendary basement stores. In 1977, I furnished my first apartment from the Emporium basement. Whether the stores discontinued them because customers stopped shopping there, or customers stopped shopping there because the stores discontinued them is a matter for discussion, but the fact is that, in the last 25 years, the middle-class customer has shunned anything that smacks of pipe-racks and bargain tables.

So, in order to survive, even the most middle-class stores and shopping centers have repositioned themselves as 'upscale'. Yes, you can shop in an outlet, but only if you shop for Ralph Lauren and Liz Claiborne. Even though they carried Martha Stewart, K-Mart failed to upgrade their physical plants fast enough and they are now suffering in many locations.

Lastly, IMHO, part of Tanforan's problem was the fact that it had no 'snob appeal'. If you told people you were going to Stonestown or Hillsdale, it carried a certain cache, even if you ended up shopping at Sears or the Emporium, and not Nordstrom. Even if you were just going to buy your husband's Jockey shorts, it's more fun to buy them in a store with plush carpeting and a tinkling piano then it is in a store where the men's department was next to the lawnmower section.

Thu Aug 09, 02:42:00 PM  
Blogger Cora Buhlert said...

I find this whole "upscale" fixation of US retailers bizarre, especially as many of the chains billed as "upscale" don't really seem that upscale to me.

Besides, the clothes selection available at Sears and J.C. Penney always seemed okay to me, though I have to admit that I haven't been inside either store in years. Never been inside a Nordstrom or Emporium store at all, the places I visited in the US didn't have those chains.

Thu Aug 09, 05:55:00 PM  
Blogger Scott Parsons said...

I remember being able to judge a mall solely by its anchors, back when there were plenty of anchor stores to go around. With department store consolidation and the "upscaling" of Target, anything is game.
I suppose the upscaling thing reverberates into other areas, such as cars. We are judged by what we drive. One could surmise we are judged by where we shop... well, at least by our labels.
I'm anxious to see how well Steve & Barry's does in the Bay Area.
Cora - you've never been in a Nordstrom? Well, the tinkling piano keys indeed give it atmosphere. I love to listen to the names they call out of the loud speaker ("Sally Brown"). Each store has its own name, which means "any available salesperson, please pick up the phone." It's quite luxurious. Compare that to Wal-Mart.

Thu Aug 09, 09:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Sat Aug 11, 10:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What I meant, though, is that in general terms, I'm constantly hearing mall owners, managers, and city councilors using the word "upscale" to describe just about anything. Such as, "Great Mall is an upscale outlet mall.""

What these lunkheads don't seem to realize is that there are a lot of folks out their that can't always afford the outrageous prices they put on "trendy" labels. I love some of the clothes in these places but oftentimes I can't always afford them unless I find them in my size at the thrift store. So that leaves me with the dead malls with stores I can afford but a more "teenybopper" or just plain crappy selections. What happened to the days of the Petrie stores or places like Hit or Miss or Paul Harris where you could find great clothing for great prices? Oh, right, they are all gone because they weren't "upscale" enough.

Gee, every time I go to Nordstrom's I never see the piano player, but I do see a lot of overpriced but nice crap. What's even more funny is that people pay those outrageous prices for these trendy clothes and then they abandone them when they aren't so trnedy anymore. Village Discount Outlet here I come!

Sat Aug 11, 10:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And let us not forget that, before the mall even existed, this was the location of the Tanforan racetrack (horse racing), whence the mall's name originated.

Sat Aug 11, 01:42:00 PM  
Blogger Scott Parsons said...

Lest we forget, during WWII, the racetrack was an internment camp for Japanese-Americans.

Mon Aug 13, 07:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Lest we forget, during WWII, the racetrack was an internment camp for Japanese-Americans."

Now there goes a brutal and interesting history.

Sat Aug 25, 11:21:00 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

Ok, so this blog post is pretty old but I was just shopping there, so I thought I'd comment.

I have no idea what this mall looked like before, but I think it's a fairly attractive mall, though certainly not "upscale" like the shopping mall and area near Powell Street in downtown San Francisco.

I'm certainly not attached to only shopping at upscale places since I'd rather save money and pay off my student loans faster than be considered the coolest kid on the block. I'm also a bit confused about when "upscale" became a sign of inner goodness and budget was a sign of depravity. It sometimes seems that Californians have that attitude.

No way could I responsibly afford shopping at Nordstroms and Macys and buy much of anything at regular prices on a regular basis. I sometimes buy things there when they have the occasional big sale or something on sale for large discounts. Even then, it's generally more expensive on sale than the more budget oriented places. Sometimes the quality is better or with better styling, but it's not always automatically better and often seems to be made in the same kinds of Chinese sweat shops, but with a non-sale price tag that is at least four times as much as more budget stores.

I got lots of personal attention at downtown SF Macys, but for all the nicer atmosphere, extra attention, and higher prices things really don't work out that much better, or clothes last much longer than at cheaper places for me. (I'm not hard on clothes anyway.) One salesman at Macys had really stinky breath (on multiple visits). Another salesman sold me beautiful $250 calfskin shoes that are light but are much less comfortable than the $50 shoes I got at Kohls and I really don't like wearing the posh shoes.

I'm completely ignored every time I go to Nordstrom while salesmen are loafing around talking to their buddies (seriously multiple times I've looked at shoes there and have never gotten any help).
Meanwhile, the overworked guy in the men's department at JCPenneys was more actual help to me while I was looking at a clearance overcoat for $60 then these hoards of salespeople in the upscale places that are charging easily 4x the price for many items.

I understand the upscale shopping thing for people with tons of money (and who light cigars with 50-dollar bills), since it feels nicer and some goods at expensive places are usually marginally better, occasionally considerably better.

At the same time I'm confused by the middle-class Californian attitude which disparages budget places like Tanforan and praises the god of upscale-ness. I mean don't people have budgets? Don't they try to live within their means? Whatever happened to frugality being a virtue rather than looked on as a vice?

Can all the middle class really justify buying all their clothes from only the more expensive places? To me this seems a bit ridiculous. But then again, I saw a stat that 20% of home owners in the Bay Area are spending over 50% of their household income on housing, which also seems ridiculous and risky to me (it used to be common wisdom not to spend more than 30% of household income on housing).

Or maybe "upscale" rubs me the wrong way and seems a little obscene since I've lived large portions of my life in places in which the dollar was worth a lot more than it is in the Bay Area. I cringe at the thought of buying a $650 coat since where I came from some people's mortgage payments are not that much more than this. I was renting a 2 bedroom apartment in a reasonably decent part of town about 5 years ago for less than this per month.

Then there are some seriously poor ghetto areas snuggled up not very far from multi-million dollar homes. The disparity in wealth here between rich and poor is also pretty extreme and much larger than some parts of the country.

I guess I understand that upscale is good for bringing in more income for stores because they seem to have higher markups. It's also good for governments since they can collect more tax on higher-priced items.

It's just the thought of "upscale" as some kind of middle class necessity and (supposedly) moral value that I find rather disturbing.

Mon Feb 25, 02:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"half-darK' doesn't refer to light in this story. It means half the stores had closed down.

I always thought Tanforan was depressing. I haven't been back in years. I hate malls, but like their history.

Sun Feb 01, 05:32:00 AM  
Blogger vishal said...


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