Another blow for the mall | Editorials


When reading its annual financial report, it’s clear that Dillard’s encountered just about every challenge facing the retail industry.

It’s all there in the online document: the competition from online commerce, the impact of the coronavirus on in-store sales, the difficulties in finding employees and the merchandise shortages following container port backlogs on the West Coast. There was even a section on the trouble with verifying that cotton products were not linked to forced labor in the Xinjiang region of China.

None of it comes as a surprise. A 10-K would likely contain similar information for any larger retailer.

What’s interesting is that Dillard’s did not mention the store in St. Joseph, which is scheduled to close later this spring. Dillard’s, based in Little Rock, Arkansas, operates 250 stores and 30 clearance centers in 20 states, including a clearance store at the East Hills Shopping Center.

In a difficult environment for retailers, Dillard’s does appear to be more choosy about where it does business. The department store chain has announced the planned closure of clearance centers in Harlingen, Texas, and Tampa, Florida. It plans to sell a store property in Slidell, Louisiana, and to close locations in Lawton, Oklahoma, Waterloo, Iowa, and Clovis, New Mexico.

“We remain committed to closing underperforming stores where appropriate,” the company announced in its year-end report.

That means St. Joseph, but not Columbia, Missouri, where the company opened an 85,000-square-foot expansion, or Amarillo and Waco, Texas, where Dillard’s is opening remodeled locations.

All of this suggests that St. Joseph is not unique with its struggling mall. The city rides the same retail wave as the rest of the country. But for us, proximity to Kansas City, a high poverty rate, lack of population growth and the lure of online options will make it increasingly difficult to retain and attract new brick-and-mortar retail.

The closing of Dillard’s in St. Joseph shouldn’t come as a shock. Some will see it as a statement on the East Hills Shopping Center, which will be left with only one major anchor tenant after Dillard’s vacates.

Maybe little could be done to save Dillard’s, but the accumulated vacancies do raise the question of longer-term options for St. Joseph’s mall. Perhaps now is the time to discuss a new direction, like repurposing it with more commercial business. In some locations, there’s been talk of Amazon buying up mall property for distribution purposes.

Since it opened in the 1960s, the East Hills Shopping Center has reinvented itself several times to remain relevant. Going forward, a question for St. Joseph will be whether it can do it one more time.


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