THIS IS A GOOD TIME TO BE a stripper.
A developer of strip shopping centers, that is. Shunted aside for two decades by their more glamorous cousins, the malls, open centers are now called the "wave of the future" by such observers as Constance Brittain, editor of Shopping Center World magazine. Fewer malls are going up as the market becomes saturated and the best sites are taken. And tough regulation of such things as storm-water drainage, traffic, and sewer service can delay ground breaking by 5 to 10 years from a mall's conception.
Much of the action is shifting instead to strip centers, which are getting bigger and more upscale. "It used to be that the only tenants you could get to anchor [a strip] were a 15,000-square-foot grocery store and a 6,000-square-foot drugstore," says Howard Arnold, brokerage president of Ackerman & Co., an Atlanta-based developer. "There are new players in that market now." The new anchors attract customers fom a wider area, giving other tenants more exposure. But they also force small stores to develop careful strategies.
Large specialty stores, which are one group of new anchors, focus on very specific customers. Kids "R" Us and Countdown, which are children's clothing stores, recycle space once leased by supermarkets -- and bring new shoppers to old centers. Circuit City, an electronics chain, attracts men and couples. So, neighboring stores selling furniture or athletic shoes might thrive, while a women's boutique might wilt.
Many new strips are anchored by "superstores," giant supermarkets that sell not only groceries, but also such specialty items as prescription drugs, film, and greeting cards. "Superstores, which are competing directly with florists and bookstores, could put traditional retailers out of business if they are next to each other," says Michael Konover, president of Simon Konover & Associates, a West Hartford, Conn., real estate and construction company. "The small stores, to be successful, have to offer something that a large supermarket chain can't."