As stores trickle back, Concord Mall looks ahead
WILMINGTON – Tom Dahlke understands what the Concord Mall means for many families and shoppers in the greater Wilmington region, and he has plans to enliven the once-bustling shopping center.
That plan is evidenced by the impending arrival of several shops and restaurants to the U.S. Route 202 mall near the Pennsylvania state border. Dahlke, the mall’s general manager under Mason Asset Management and Namdar Realty Group, a quickly growing, New York-based commercial real estate investment firm that acquired the mall last year, believes it could be the start of positive momentum.
The most recent arrival is 7th Inning Stretch, a sports collectables and memorabilia store that opened just north of Macy’s center court in January. It will fill a niche left by the closure of longtime tenant AB Sport last year.
Meanwhile, Rasa Sayang, a Malaysian restaurant that is currently located at Independence Mall just to the south off Route 202, will move to the former Noodles & Company spot on the north end of the mall in May, Dahlke said.
A coffee, bubble tea and dessert shop will fill another space in the mall, while a yogurt and snack shop also recently signed a lease. Those new additions add to the news from last fall that Mason worked out a lease extension with local favorite Café Riviera, an Italian restaurant and pizzeria that has long operated from the mall.
“I love my national brands, but I think what’s going to really make a difference for this mall is bringing in local businesses,” he said. “I think it’s definitely going to be what the future for Concord Mall is for right now, especially considering the environment that we’re in.”
Dahlke wants to expand the mall’s food offerings, including a local Mexican restaurant and a quality hamburger brand. He also wants to expand the offerings of local clothing designers and shops that you won’t find elsewhere, and he anticipates pitching the mall to shop-owners on Market Street in Wilmington who may be looking for larger spaces.
The biggest question hanging over the mall, however, is what to do about the former Sears on its southern end. The nearly 175,000-square-foot, two-story anchor store closed last year, leaving an enormous opportunity and challenge.
Dahlke said his team is eyeing potential retail tenants like Sam’s Club, the warehouse retailer owned by Walmart, or the Swedish furniture retailer Ikea. He noted that Sam’s Club only has a Dover location in the state, while the closest Ikea is in Philadelphia.
“We need something that will pick up that ‘box’ in its entirety,” he said. “The bigger retailers are kind of pumping the brakes right now though and figuring out where things are about to land, considering the year that we just came out of.”
If retail isn’t in the cards, Dahlke said they also envision an entertainment venue similar to the restaurant and arcade brand Dave & Buster’s working in the space.
“We need to drive traffic into the mall, and retail or entertainment do just that,” he said.
While other malls in the region, including the King of Prussia mega mall to the north, are exploring redeveloping former department stores into office space, medical centers, distribution warehouses or even apartment housing, Dahlke said that Mason remains focused on filling the Sears space with a retail or entertainment brand.
He did note that there are other spaces in the mall that they would like to see redeveloped into non-retail use though. Specifically, the former mall owner Allied Properties had administrative offices in a third-floor space at the center of the mall that they would like to lease again. At the rear of the mall property is also a former 13,000-square-foot RetroFitness gym that closed last year that Dahlke is reimagining.
“I’d love to see an urgent care or something along those lines go into that space, because the nearest urgent care center is down at Fairfax [Shopping Center],” he said.
Meanwhile, mall patrons should expect to see Macy’s and Boscov’s continue to anchor the mall for the foreseeable future, Dahlke said, noting that both did “exceedingly well” in 2020 despite the pandemic.
While Boscov’s has a long-term ground lease on its space and has publicly stated its intent to stay for the future, Macy’s, which has closed many stores nationwide in recent years, has been quieter about its plans. Last fall, it even converted its Dover department store into a fulfillment center as part of a pilot project.
Dahlke said that he had no reason to believe the Concord Mall store was in danger of closure though.
“As of right now, my understanding is that they’re here to stay. They feel the store is doing well enough and attracts enough customers from a wide area that it’s in their best interest to keep the store going,” he said.