Aug 20

As the once-dominant Sears fades from Houston’s memory, new retailers rise in its place

The Midtown Sears is being converted to a tech hub. Crews are tearing down the Memorial City Sears in West Houston. Now, the freestanding Sears on North Shepherd, the last active Sears department store in the city, is set to close Aug. 30.

Once the nation’s dominant retailer — and now a case study in how not to adapt to a changing environment — Sears may soon fade from Houston’s memory. But its real estate is being rethought for the future.

Mall owners such as Memorial City’s MetroNational are working to turn former Sears stores into profitable space at a time when enclosed malls across the country are foundering. Jason Baker, a Houston real estate broker and principal at Baker Katz, said the Memorial City redevelopment offers an opportunity for MetroNational to build outdoor patios, bring in culinary destination and draw more foot traffic from neighborhoods immediately surrounding the mall.

“I’m excited for them because this was, in my view, for a mall this age — this was they key piece to really unpacking the mall’s real potential,” he said.

Not all redevelopments are welcome.

Freestanding Sears sites like the one in Midtown have been accessible to lower-income neighborhoods, both in price point and geography, said Laura Solitare, an associate professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University. Many in that area don’t have cars, she said, and so the Sears closure there leaves a neighborhood without a place to buy clothes and applicances.

“That area is losing a lot and not much necessarily is coming in,” she said.


The rise and fall of Sears, whose famous catalog made it the Amazon of its day, has been well documented.

Retailing moved online, Walmart took the low-end market, affluent shoppers flocked to boutique retailers and Target dominated the middle of the road.

“Sears tried to be everything to everybody,” said Bill Fulton, executive director of Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research. “In 2020, that model just doesn’t work anymore.”

Displaced as a retailer, the vast real estate legacy Sears left behind is now undergoing a transformation. Fulton said he expected to see high-rise residential developments cropping up in place of large, big-box stores.

Crews tearing down the former Sears building at Memorial City Mall are making way for a new outdoor “lifestyle” and retail district — phase one in a redevelopment process that focuses on consumer experience and walkability. In Midtown, Rice University readies to transform a former Sears into a $100 million tech hub, called the Ion, signaling another tectonic shift in the economy.

Elsewhere, the former Sears store in the Westwood Mall is now a car dealership, while the one at The Woodlands Mall lives on as a Nordstrom. The Wall Street Journal has reported that Simon Property Group and Amazon are discussing a deal to convert shuttered Sears and J.C. Penney locations in other markets to fulfillment centers for the e-commerce giant.

The North Shepherd store is owned by Seritage, a real estate investment trust spun off from Sears in 2015. At the time, Sears sold Seritage some 235 properties for $2.7 billion.

Seritage representatives did not return requests for comment about its plans for the North Houston space.

Baker, the retail estate broker, said Seritage scooped up the North Shepherd property for its potential. It is desirable both because of its size and the growing area it sits in.

The old Sears store will likely get torn down, he said, with its redevelopment split between multi-family residential and retail uses.

“It is good spacing for probably a lot of retailers, including things like Target,” he said. “Home Depot and Lowe’s are right there; this has been a good market for them.”

Nationally, more vacant retail properties are turning over to warehouse space as e-commerce booms, with “dead malls” in Milwaukee, Cleveland, Chicago, Omaha and Dallas/Ft. Worth driving the trend, according to the CBRE, which tracks the real estate market. There are now 59 projects completed or underway since 2017, up from 24 in January 2019, a CBRE survey found.

These conversion projects are often located at freestanding big-box stores with large parking lots and multiple access points. The pandemic will only spur the phenomenon, the CBRE said, and property conversions could soon ripple into more areas in points to the West and Southeast.

But even as the pandemic accelerates trends away from brick and mortar, some Houstonians haven’t changed their shopping habits and are frustrated to see their neighborhood Sears store go.

B.R. Brooks, 74, has been shopping at the Sears on North Shepherd for more than 50 years. It’s where she had her keys made and took her sons back-to-school shopping. She still takes her car to the Sears Auto Center next door and shops while she waits.

She doesn’t have a computer and doesn’t shop online, she said. Without Sears, she won’t know where to go.

“It’s really heartbreaking that they’re closing,” she said while leaving the store last week. “It’s a one-stop-shop. Whatever you needed, it was right here.”

By Amanda Drane
Houston Chronicle
Read the Original Article Here

Aug 18

9AM Drive-thru school supply distribution

Due to COVID-19, the need for school supplies this year is even greater. The Alliance is partnering with PlazAmericas to host its 13th Annual Back to School Drive this morning at 9a.m.

The drive is aimed at providing school supplies to 3,000 students and their families in Southwest Houston. To support students, the organizations plan to distribute school supplies and other essential items provided by local businesses and partners. To ensure everyone’s safety, the distribution will be a drive-thru event with social distancing and mask requirements in effect.

What: Back to School drive-thru distribution of school supplies, fresh produce box, giveaways and information about COVID-19 relief and other services.

When: Tuesday, August 18, 2020, at 9:00 am until supplies last.

Where: PlazAmericas Mall, 7500 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX 77036

Drive-thru distribution will take place in the parking garage located on the East side of the mall close to Highway 59. Attendees are encouraged to enter through Clarewood Drive.

A walk-up station will also be available (participants must practice social distancing) inside the mall through the America Cinemas entrance.

Lines will not open until 8:45 am.

By Rachel Estrada, Courtney Carpenter

Read the Original Article Here

Aug 16

Helping schoolkids – from a distance

Volunteers distribute backpacks Tuesday during The Alliance and PlazAmericas’ Back to School drive in Houston. This is the 13th annual drive for the nonprofit and mall.

Photo: Houston Chronicle / Elizabeth Conley / Staff Photographer

Aug 16

The Alliance Back to School Drive 2020 – Recap

The Alliance partnered with PlazAmericas to host the 13th Annual Back to School Drive on August 18, 2020. We distributed school supply bags to 3,000 students in the Southwest Houston area and gave out over 500 fresh food boxes thanks to our sponsors, our media, corporate and nonprofit partners, volunteers, staff, and a number of generous individuals. Thank you to Ronald McDonald House of Charities of Greater Houston/Galveston and Texas Children’s Hospital for providing free immunizations to children! We are grateful to work with our partners to serve the community.

See the Facebook Album Here

Aug 16

VIETV The Alliance Back to School Drive Thru

VIETV Coverage of The Alliance & PlazAmericas Back to School Drive-Thru event on August 18.

Watch the Coverage Here

Aug 13

The pandemic is forcing stores to close, and limiting choices for consumers

HOUSTON – Travelers around Houston will notice a growing number of buildings and storefronts that are empty, and the pandemic slowdown is likely to change where and how we spend our money.

By comparison: in March, Houston’s retail sector was doing very well, with all kinds of options in all kinds of places. Five months later, much of that has changed and the worst may be yet to come.

“I think 2021 could be, possibly, even more challenging and we could see even more fallout than we’ve already seen,” says Jason Baker, of the Baker Katz commercial real estate brogerage.

He’s not alone. One industry analysis suggests retail vacancies will more than double in the first half of the year, as stores are unable to keep their doors open and get even worse if consumers choose to stay home.

Baker is less concerned with the two dozen, or so, major retailers who have declared recent bankruptcy, saying most were already on borrowed time. He is sure ‘brick and sticks’ retail, as he calls it, will remain a popular choice but is curious what healthy retailers may do as they reassess the number of stores they keep open to serve the community, going forward.

“I think a lot of retailers are going to say ‘We need what we have to maybe, even, fewer locations,'” says Baker.

Houston’s over-supply of office space will, also, continue to be a problem. The city’s vacancy rate was already among the highest in the country. As companies have sent employees to work-from-home, there’s the possibility that office-needs will shrink even more.

“I think office is going to continue to feel the squeeze,” says Baker, “But to say that there’s not going to be a fair amount of demand, going into the future, I’m not sure I buy that, yet.”

by Tom Zizka
FOX 26 Houston
See the Original Feature Here

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