Summer 2016
Specialty Retail 2016 Hall of Fame

Outstanding Specialty Leasing Director of the Year

Karen Larson, SLD
Director of Specialty Leasing Urban Retail Properties, LLC

Karen Larson, Director of Specialty Leasing at Urban Retail Properties, has watched specialty retail evolve from its early years. She has been through its growing pains and takes pride in how far the industry — and her career — has come since.

headshot_karen_larsonSales Dynamics had plans to branch out into the Midwest and were looking for people with management background, Larson says. At that time Larson hadn’t heard of specialty retail but her can-do attitude and curiosity got the better of her. “It was something I was not sure I wanted to do and had no idea what I was getting into, but I thought, ‘Let me try it and see,’” Larson says. The rest, as they say, is history.
Larson launched a specialty leasing program at (the now defunct) Evergreen Plaza in Illinois and everything was so brand new that Larson just rolled with the punches and literally helped assemble the program from whipping out a screwdriver and putting together shelves for carts.

Evolution of specialty retail

During Larson’s early years, cellphones weren’t really a thing and neither were cellphone accessories, one of the staples of the specialty retail offerings these days. There were funky concepts such as those that offered your name on a grain of rice. Children’s games and puzzles were huge as were religious concepts.
Over the years, Larson has handled many challenges including the personal one of juggling work with family: daughter Nicole, is 12 and son, Nathan, 9. Her advice to fellow professionals is to listen to retailers and to pick themselves up after bumps in the road. “The golden rule is that you treat others how you want to be treated,” Larson says, “Respect the position. Respect the people you work with, whether it’s somebody who is mopping the floor around an RMU or somebody who’s managing the property, you treat everybody equally.” It’s a lesson she learned from her grandmother who advised her to watch how the men in her life treat everyday people. “I took her personal advice into my career,” Larson says.

ggv_7948It’s a strategy that has yielded rich dividends as specialty retail has grown and matured and gained respect, not only locally and nationally, but internationally. “What has remained the same is the desire to succeed, to have the best mousetrap on the market and to make it work, not only from a national perspective but to also make the American dream work for small mom-and-pop locals.”

“What’s exciting too is the many new opportunities in products and concepts that come out every year,” Larson says adding that keeping a pulse on trends is key, “you still need the staples out there just like you need bread for sandwiches, but it’s the lunch meat that keeps changing.”

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Poornima Apte

Poornima Apte is a Boston-area freelance writer and editor specializing in retail and the book publishing industry. Learn more at
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