Saturday, January 11, 2014

More Stores Leaving Esplanade Mall; Mayor Yenni, Councilwoman DeFrancesch “Blindsided”

Two stores, Ann Taylor Loft and The Gap, have announced plans to close up shop at Kenner’s Esplanade Mall at the end of January. A third store, Hollister, is also rumored to be on the way out.

In a Fox 8 piece, Nancy Parker described Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni and District 4 Councilwoman Maria DeFrancesch as being “blindsided” by the moves.

“I have been fighting relentlessly for this mall,” DeFrancesch said. “Had we been notified by the mall, I would immediately have contacted people from these two stores to see whatever we do to give the mall a chance.”

Both Mayor Yenni and Councilman DeFrancesch blamed low foot traffic and visibility at the mall and pointed to the new theater as a sign of the mall’s revitalization.

“Foot traffic is an issue there,” Yenni said.

“(The stores should) wait a couple of months; give it a chance; see what difference – how much greater the foot traffic will be in the mall (due to the theater),” DeFrancesch said. 

"There is no reason why we can't have signs in both directions (on I-10)," DeFrancesch said.

Yeah, a sign on I-10 should do the trick. That would be the answer to all of the Esplanade's problems. 

What Yenni and DeFrancesch don’t realize, since neither one has ever owned a business before (sorry Councilwoman, Section 8 housing rentals don’t qualify as a “business”), is that business owners and managers study trends and do an enormous amount of research before making decisions, especially decisions to close a business.

Many retailers generate 50-60% of their annual profits from the Christmas shopping season. This money allows them to afford to wait out the slow 1st Quarter when consumers cut back on their spending to pay down their debt from Christmas shopping.

Obviously, Ann Taylor and The Gap studied the trends and determined that they weren't able to generate enough revenue from the Esplanade locations to continue operating at a loss for the other 9 months of the year. 

For major retailers like Ann Taylor and The Gap to break their leases and give up on the mall is a disturbing sign for the mall and Kenner, and continues a trend at the venerable Esplanade Mall which was once the crown jewel of Jefferson Parish mall but has long since been passed by Lakeside Shopping Center and, now, the truly revitalized Oakwood Shopping Center on the West Bank.

Kenner residents have long complained about declining standards in the Esplanade Mall, empty stores, a disappointing food court, and an emphasis on too many teen-oriented stores.

Over the past several years, Simon Properties, the Esplanade’s owner, has gone through several mall managers and marketing directors, each with limited success.

As she has done in the past, Councilwoman DeFrancesch conveniently name dropped potential new retailers.

“(Stores) like Belk’s and others,” DeFrancesch said.

When the last Kenner elections occured, Mayor Yenni and Councilwoman DeFrancesch teased Kenner residents with the promise of another major retailer, Kohl’s, coming to Kenner.

After the election, a Kohl’s spokesperson denied ever seriously considering opening a Kenner location.

While having a Belk’s location in Esplanade Mall or anywhere in Kenner’s many vacant shopping centers would be great, the prospects of getting a Belk’s is equally remote.

Belk’s has one South Louisiana location in Covington. Their only other Louisiana locations are in Shreveport and Monroe. The Covington location sits adjacent to I-12 and near other Belk locations on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, making distributions costs significantly less than shipping products and incurring significant marketing costs for a standalone Kenner location.

In addition, the idea that Belk’s would bypass booming retail areas like The Mall of Louisiana in Baton Rouge, Lakeside or even Oakwood to settle in Kenner is equally dubious.

However, I imagine that like Councilwoman DeFrancesch, Kenner residents can dream.

I wonder if Yenni and DeFrancesch are working out a package deal to have Kohl’s AND Belk’s fill the empty Esplanade stores.

After all, the next Kenner election is right around the corner.