SPECIAL REPORT: Holding the Bag
HORSEHEADS (WENY) -- Kmart, JCPenney and now Sears. Big box stores-- that once dominated the market--are declining, but continue to survive in the Southern Tier. And malls--once a destination for shoppers of all ages -- are left suffering.
"There's no secret that when Macy's left, everyone said, 'well this is a hit for the mall'" says Chemung County Executive Tom Santulli. "It was."
Macy's--once an anchor store in the Arnot Mall--has now sat vacant for a year. And former power houses like Sears are are just one quarterly report away from being wiped from the retail landscape.
"Obviously retail has changed--the shopping industry has changed," says Meghann Reed, Marketing Director for the Arnot Mall. "But the malls that are going to continue to thrive and survive during this time in retail are going to evolve and change and that's what we're doing."
While others may be on the brink of closing, that's something Chemung County simply couldn't afford to let happen. After all, the Arnot Mall is a huge contributor to the county's tax rolls. So far this year, the country has raked in almost 14 million dollars in sales tax revenue.
Much of that comes from the near 3-million square feet of retail space within and surrounding the mall.
It also employs a couple hundred people who would then be out of jobs.
And whether it be those big box stores or even smaller retailers, it's no secret consumers have shifted the way they shop. This has left local retailers, and the mall itself - having to do the same.
And much of that shift is due to the rise of online shopping. Sites like Amazon and and other online retailers have eliminated much of the need to take physical shopping trips.
Now, Arnot is preparing to go from being just a destination to what officials are calling an "entire experience."
"You see dining, hospitality, entertainment--Moonies will be opening at the mall here later this year and that's really exciting," says Reed. "H.L. Stephens is expanding and opening a brand new store near Sears right now, so that's exciting. We have other news coming soon that ties in with our redevelopment and really where we're going to be going in the next phase of the mall."
It was also announced that The Bon-Ton will be expanding to fill Macy's former storefront.
This as just part of what the mall is calling it's 50th year redevelopment.
But is a "redevelopment" enough to actually save it?
"It's not going to be easy because the world of retail is changing--it just is. And I've learned a long time ago, you can cry and complain about it all you want but it doesn't do [anything]," says Santulli. "You have to take it head on. And you have to decide 'what's the next plan going forward in these places knowing there's been a change in people's habits?"
This uncertainty even has consumers wary of what could happen.
Most retailers that are financially stressed, could be closed without much warning.
With employees and shoppers holding the bag, this causes pessimism towards the places that used to be the "place to be".
"There were rumors at one time they were going to close up," recalls Bob Sardo, a resident of Big Flats and frequent mall-goer. "[There were] rumors about stores moving and all [of] that."
However, Sardo also seemed optimistic about what those upcoming changes could mean.
"I think people are going to really enjoy what they're seeing," he says. "So I have confidence the mall is going to be improving quite quite rapidly over the next few months."
"There's a lot of things you can't find online. And when you shop locally in a mall, that money stays in your community," says Reed.
And with more announcements and changes still to come, the Mall is looking towards the future with a positive outlook.
But - only time will tell.