Gap's closing marks another Victoria Mall vacancy
By BY ALLISON MILES
July 20, 2010 at 2:20 a.m.
It wasn't your normal scene inside the Gap store.
Shelves, once lined with polos, T-shirts and accessories, stood nearly bare while hangers, storage bins and racks sat huddled together near the store's windows.
A sign with the words "We'll miss you" was perched out front.
After about 10 years inside the Victoria Mall, Gap will close its doors for good on Monday.
The change is the latest of several businesses that recently vacated the shopping center.
Waldenbooks and FYE closed in January, while Just Dogs Gourmet, Tuesday Morning and the Scoreboard sports bar also recently closed.
A total of 10 sites remain vacant inside the mall.
Because of corporate policy, Gap employees couldn't say why it's closing, said Alyssa Serna, the store's general manager.
"This is just a place where we'll no longer be," she said. "The company."
It's a natural cycle in retail that successful new tenants replace those that fail, Ky Widener, vice president of leasing for Hull Storey Gibson Companies, the mall's management company, said in a written statement.
The Victoria Mall is thriving and maintains a high occupancy level, he said.
"In spite of the dismal national economy in 2008 and 2009, the Victoria Mall 'weathered the storm' in remarkable shape, losing few national retailers to bankruptcy," he said. "Victoria Mall was fortunate enough not to suffer the widespread closures experienced by thousands of shopping centers across the nation."
It's sad to see a retailer leave, said Donna Jones, who manages Tracy's Hallmark.
Having fewer shopping options means people are more likely to go out of town and, in today's economy, people should shop in their hometowns, she said.
Jones, who has worked in the mall for six years, said she's seen many businesses come and go.
"I want them to at least put things in that will kind of last," she said.
Victoria doesn't have enough stores to begin with, so it hurts to lose another retailer, said Sandy Medrano, an incoming senior at Victoria East High School.
The 17-year-old shops at the mall often, although she said she doesn't frequent Gap.
Cheryl Lumpkins, who recently moved to Victoria from Fort Worth, said she won't feel many effects from the closures. She and her children prefer to shop out of town because the selection is better.
"It doesn't surprise me that other stores are closing," she said. "Things seem like they've been pretty slow out there."
Nationwide, shopping center vacancies are leveling out, said Jesse Tron, spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers. Although the council doesn't track vacancy levels, he said it's evident through anecdotal information from the organization's economists.
The overall trend is part of the ongoing economic turnaround, Tron said.
Discount stores fared well over the past year, while apparel and luxury items, which people typically don't view as necessities, were among the hardest sectors hit, he explained.
Regardless, it appears consumer confidence is picking up and, through increased retail sales, the industry is on the track to righting itself.
"We're not there yet, but we're headed in the right direction," Tron said. "And there's certainly those indicators that things are getting better."
The Victoria Mall is already in discussion with companies interested in moving in, including I-Scream, an ice cream shop going in across from Best Buy and Chick-fil-A, Widener said.
In recent years, the mall also brought in The Children's Place and James Avery Craftsman, he said, while existing store, such as Chuck E. Cheese, Casa Ole and Champ Sports, upgraded and expanded.
"Victoria Mall will continue to flourish as the retail hub for the city of Victoria," he said, "and the local residents can look forward to changes that are exciting and for the betterment of the community in the months to come."
Back at Gap, management and employees are gearing up for their final days.
The store will not hold a major "going out of business" blowout sale, Serna said. Instead, most merchandise will go to other stores.
"We have some basic specials going on right now," she said, "but it's not because of the store closing."