Shopping centers and retailers are trying to claw their way back to better economic times after taking a revenue hit from the more than two-year-old COVID-19 pandemic. A big conference where everyone can talk in person and work out deals is a good step toward helping to continue retail’s revival.
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The conference, which runs through Tuesday at the Las Vegas Convention Center, has been under stress, too. For more than two years, no conferences were held and most of the ICSC staff was laid off three months into the pandemic.
Last year, the New York-based ICSC, which used to stand for the International Council of Shopping Centers, changed its name to Innovating Commerce Serving Communities and expanded its membership to include businesses such as technology start-ups and real estate service providers.
Business began to get back to normal for the ICSC last December when it held an abbreviated version of the conference. It was called “Here, We Go,” and took place in the West Hall at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Only about 10,000 attendees registered — down from the usual 30,000.
For this most recent conference, things were more normal with seminars held on everything from “New Concepts on Amplifying the In-store Shopper Experience” to “Success Stories of Mall Revitalization.”
Dwyane Wade, the 13-time NBA All-Star, three-time NBA champion and an Olympic gold medalist, gave the keynote presentation, outlining the steps he has taken to grow his Way of Wade basketball and apparel brand with its 11 retail stores.
While attendance at the conference was better than in December, it still had room to grow. “As of Sunday, we had over 22,000 people registered for the event,” said Stephanie Cegielski, ICSC’s vice president of research and public relations. “While it isn’t yet at pre-pandemic levels, it is a great turnout for our first May event since the start of the pandemic.”
The most discussed topic at the event was the increase in leased space, Cegielski said. “We are definitely seeing a resurgence following a quiet 2020,” she noted.
This time the conference was using only the Central and South halls and not a third one at the convention center. But all the exhibit space was being used. “We sold out of floor space,” Cegielski said.
On the exhibit floor were a host of companies either looking for retail space to rent, ventures selling various services or cities hoping to attract a shopping center or two.
Oklahoma City sent a contingent of city staff and chamber of commerce officials, as it has done in previous years, to staff two big meeting rooms in a booth with large monitors. The idea was to showcase the city to bring in quality retail and development projects. The city is emphasizing that its population has grown by 100,000 people in the last decade to make it an urban center with 650,000 residents.
Other cities taking booths included Coalinga, Dana Point, Fresno, Garden Grove and Costa Mesa in California; Aurora, Colorado, and Las Vegas.
On the retail side, companies such as The Home Depot Corp., The Good Feet Store, 99 Cents Only Stores, Walmart Inc. and Big 5 Sporting Goods had booths.
Malls are starting to return to pre-pandemic levels, but inflation may take a bite out of that. One attendee said online enterprises are venturing into brick-and-mortar locations and people are wanting to grow their stores despite rumblings of a recession.
According to Moody’s Analytics, regional and super regional mall vacancies have trended down three quarters in a row. In the first quarter of 2022, vacancy rates stood at 10.3 percent, compared to 10.6 percent one year ago. Asking rents were up slightly to $21.38 a square foot compared to $21.31 a square foot in early 2021.
With the economy getting back to normal, ICSC is planning another conference Aug. 28 to 30 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida.