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June 3rd, 2009Marlborough Mall Bucks National Trends

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by Eileen Kennedy

The outlook has been dicey for retail lately with consumers tightening their purse strings in response to recessionary times, but officials at the Solomon Pond Mall in Marlborough believe they’re in a sweet spot.

“We’re just the right size and we’re in a great place. You can conveniently shop at two to three stores and get back out if you have to. We also draw customers from many surrounding towns in two counties, Worcester and Middlesex,” said Sheila Hennessy, the mall’s director of marketing. The mall is owned by shopping center giant, Simon Property Group Inc. of Indiana.

Nationally, malls are struggling. The average vacancy rate has reached 7.9 percent, according to statistics from the New York-based real estate research firm Reis Inc.. That’s up more than two percentage points from the 5.1 percent vacancy rate recorded during the second quarter of 2005. However, during a recent tour of Solomon Pond, only two store fronts in the 900,000-square-foot facility were empty. Management would not disclose the mall’s exact vancancy rate.

Shop Til They Drop

The Solomon Pond Mall was built at the junctions of Interstates 495 and 290 in Marlborough and Berlin in 1996. Along with shops, it also has a Regal Cinema movie theater, 10 fast food choices in its food court and a Bertucci’s and T.G.I. Friday’s.

The mall’s customer base is split evenly between a number of age groups including young parents, tweens and teens, and older shoppers, Hennessy said.

“We have a Gymboree and a Coach near each other, and we have a lot of customers that want both,” she said.

Demographics show that 56 percent of Solomond Pond shoppers are married, 15 percent have graduate degrees and perhaps most importantly for retailers, 16 percent have an annual income of at least $100,000.

The mall’s management also decided to change things up about 18 months ago when 30 of its 110 store leases were coming up for renewal.

“We try to keep things fresh for shoppers,” Hennessy said, pointing out Swarovski Crystal, White House/Black Market, and Bare Escentuals, all of which opened shop over the last year and a half. The newer stores join anchor stores Sears, JC Penney and Macy’s.

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