By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: December 21, 2018 | 12:30 p.m.
VIRGINIA – As the final week of shopping before Christmas gets underway, two stores that were a regular part of Tri-City and Southside Virginia shoppers’ retail routines stand vacant, leaving other stores working to draw their dollars into their businesses.
This Christmas shopping season marks the first time in decades that those making their seasonal purchases in the Southpark Mall complex will not have Sears and Toys’R’Us as options to fill out their holiday lists as both stores closed their Tri-City locations over the course of 2018.
In January, longtime Southpark Mall anchor store Sears completed its closure operations following confirmation from its parent company that the location, along with over 60 other stores, would be closing as Sears Holdings continues to try to right its financial ship after years of sluggish sales at its Sears and Kmart stores nationwide.
Across Southpark Circle in the nearby shopping center, Toys’R’Us, an icon of the Christmas season thanks to its toy selection and well-known yearly catalog of the latest toys and games also ceased operations in Colonial Heights, closing their longtime location over the summer after several decades following the company’s announcement that it plans to close all of their over 700 stores in the United States, effectively ending the brand’s domestic operations.
Last summer, this is how Toys’R’Us looked during its final days, bare shelves and signage marking the end of the company’s era as a face of the toy market. The company closed over 700 stores as they faced billions in debt. (Michael Campbell)
As both stores remain empty heading into the Christmas season, the competitors of both stores, particularly Toys’R’Us have made investments in their own stores to attempt to draw in more shoppers who are looking for more traditional toy items for the Christmas lists.
According to retail analysts, both Walmart and Target have made significant investments, in this case, floor and shelf space in the area of toys. For Walmart, as part of their “America’s Best Toy Shop” push, their online and brick-and-mortar stores have invested in luring shoppers over with a diverse selection of toys and games that may have harder to find in other stores or solely at Toys’R’Us stores.
In a similar vein, Target stores have also made shelf space available in their toy departments to help draw in the toy consumer that may be on the sidelines looking for another option for their toy shopping needs during the Christmas season and beyond. According to the company and CNBC, Target said they planned to add a quarter-million square feet of space solely dedicated to toys, space which will remain in place after Christmas ends.
Retail analyst Liz Dunn said while speaking to CNBC business news program “Power Lunch” that Target is projecting there is “$100 billion up for grabs not just from Toys’R’Us, but from all these retailers that have gone out of business and closed their doors,” which includes Sears, Kmart, and others.
Even stores that didn’t specialize in toys have gotten into the toy game in an attempt to lift holiday sales. In Colonial Heights and in many Best Buy stores across the country, some of their aisles that were dedicated to overstock or video games and accessories have now been adorned with toys and gadgets as the stores leverage their position in the retail space as a go-to for electronics to its advantage to try and draw in more shoppers needing those items, along with those looking for a toy shopping option, while Five Below, a new tenant in Southpark Mall works to cater to shoppers looking for toys and games at a discount.
Aisles like this one at the Best Buy in Colonial Heights are becoming more common as stores work to gain former Toys’R’Us customers by stocking more toys and other gadgets for shoppers in their stores. (Michael Campbell)
For the soft goods that Sears was known for, such as clothes and home accessories, stores like Target, along with TJ Maxx and HomeGoods are filling that role, offering competitive prices and other deals to bring in shoppers. Some stores, such as TJ Maxx and HomeGoods are also finding success in establishing themselves in the footprint of former business locations, such as in Chester where their stores opened during the fall and found strong success in the new state-of-the-art retail store that rests on the footprint of the former Kmart store in the Breckenridge Shopping Center. That Kmart store closed its doors in 2016.
As the holiday season approaches its peak and, eventually, its end, the question remains of the future of the two empty storefronts in the Tri-Cities’ largest shopping corridor.
While no plans for the vacant space have been revealed by mall officials or a prospective retailer, Southpark Mall, according to published reports, is expected to see a new H&M store opening during the Spring of 2019. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the store known for its trendy, cheaper fast fashion is slated to open in the heart of the mall next to Kay Jewelers between the general areas of the food court and JCPenney.
As for the old Toys’R’Us space, real estate signage is still affixed to the building, but no announcements of its future have been made.