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August 11th, 2010A tale of two malls

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by Emma James

In the narrative of Baton Rouge retail, it would be easy to cast the Mall of Louisiana as a villain and Cortana Mall as the struggling yet noble hero. But the centers have faced similar challenges since the recession caused national retailers to halt expansion and close stores across the country.

The real villain is the economy, which has caused sluggish consumer confidence, retail vacancies and low sales numbers. Now that the national retail community is seeing some recovery, the goal for the Mall of Louisiana and Cortana Mall is the same: to position themselves to exploit the growth.

Cortana certainly has a more difficult road to travel. When it opened in 1976 in the northeast quadrant of the intersection of Florida Boulevard and Airline Highway, the mall was one of the 10 largest in the world.

Today, Cortana remains the largest mall in Louisiana. But its popularity has decreased since the opening of other retail centers: the Mall of Louisiana in 1997, Towne Center at Cedar Lodge in 2005 and Perkins Rowe in 2007.

Cortana does not release occupancy rates, but it suffered a major setback last year when it lost one of its anchors, Steve & Barry’s. Retailers such as f.y.e. also cleared out when economic conditions plummeted.

But don’t count Cortana out just yet. Former general manager Norman Landry passed the reins to Percy Singleton just a couple of months after a new advertising campaign rebranded the mall to attract more customers and retailers, despite the economic downturn.

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