Experts say why shopping centers need 'serious makeover' after announcement of SF Nordstrom closures

BySuzanne Phan KGO logo
Thursday, May 4, 2023
Rethinking retail a must as SF retail vacancies increase, experts say
Some industry experts say retail stores and shopping centers need a serious makeover.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- With Nordstrom announcing plans to close its two downtown San Francisco and Nordstrom Rack locations on Market Street, some are asking what the future of retail will look like and if stores in the suburbs are doing much better with customers.

Many shoppers are still going into stores. But they say that convenience is key. That often means shopping closer to where they live instead of in downtown San Francisco. Some industry experts say retail stores and shopping centers need a serious makeover.

June Jackson prefers shopping on 4th Street in Berkeley.

RELATED: Nordstrom to close both Downtown San Francisco stores, company confirms

Nordstrom is planning to close both of its Downtown San Francisco stores, including inside of Westfield Mall, the store confirmed Tuesday.

"I don't think I'll be shopping in San Francisco. I find everything I need down here," Jackson said.

Sonya Jeb can find what she's looking for at this Nordstrom Rack in Emeryville.

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"It's closer to all the things I need. The parking is free. It's also not very busy. For me, the ease of it is better. I do like to go into the store," Jeb said.

Neither one wants to go to downtown San Francisco to shop anymore.

Some people aren't really surprised about Nordstrom closing its stores on Market Street.

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"The entire store was stripped of all high-end goods. When I asked one of the people who worked there, they said the company now considers it an "urban store" and that the more expensive merchandise is to be found in the suburbs in Walnut Creek and Palo Alto," said Ron Blatman.

Blatman is Executive Producer of the documentary series "Saving the City." It's about how to make downtowns better places.

"There are malls that are doing exceptionally well and there are others that are just doing," said Blatman. "The high-volume malls in the Bay Area are certainly Valley Fair down in San Jose, Stanford Center in Palo Alto -- downtown Walnut Creek has historically done well."

Sean Randolph is senior director of Bay Area Council Economic Institute.

"Some malls are doing pretty well. Others are not -- Corte Madera. On the other hand, in Marin, the mall up in Northgate is pretty much a ghost town."

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Randolph says it's time to rethink retail because shopping centers across the country are struggling in different locations.

"I think there's a new model out there where the traditional mall is being rethought. It needs to be rethought," Randolph said. "Retail has struggled a bit in the pandemic, but it's not going away. The question is how retail is designed in the future to draw people in."

Randolph says some shopping areas outside the urban core are being re-designed around residential areas with a mix of retail, entertainment and other amenities.

Again, economic experts say it's all about drawing shoppers into the stores.

MORE: SF launches 'Vacant to Vibrant' program to fill downtown vacancies with pop-up shops

Wednesday afternoon, the CEO of Union Square Alliance, Marisa Rodriguez, released this statement:

"Nordstrom leaving is very disheartening and shows the need for fast tracked legislation to help retail and immediately focus on zoning that meets the critical needs of a time when the entire retail landscape has changed nationwide. On Thursday, in two days, the planning commission is set to hear a package of critical and anticipated zoning changes in Union Square and the greater downtown: changes that are forward looking, realistic and obtainable if we all work together in earnest. Collectively we can meet this moment and turn our city on an immediate path towards a healthy and sustainable rebound."

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