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Summer 2012 Specialty Retail Hall of Fame Awards

Specialty Leasing Manager: Merchants’ Darling

LSK_3029-D-MonahanDenise Monahan is the first specialty leasing manager to have been nominated for a Hall of Fame award by a tenant. by Bernadette Starzee

When Denise Monahan found out that she had been named Specialty Leasing Manager of the Year, she laughed. “I received a call from one of my tenants, Dan Kilkoyne, president of Mini Melts USA, Inc.,” she recalls. “He said, ‘I did something without telling you, and I hope you’re not mad.’ He’s a great tenant, and I was wondering, ‘What could he have possibly done? Moved a machine?’”

Kilkoyne informed Monahan that he had nominated her for the award, and that she had won and would be a getting a call in five minutes. “I chuckled, because of the way he told me,” she says. “The honor was especially sweet because the nomination came from a tenant.”

In nominating Monahan, Kilkoyne spoke about how she had helped guide his company as it grew. “I believe Denise is one of the best specialty leasing reps in the nation. Her property is always fully leased, the décor is incredible and she integrates so many different elements into the program,” Kilkoyne wrote in his nominating papers. “She values her tenants’ opinion and creates an extremely productive work environment.”

Monahan’s ability to relate to tenants stems from the fact that she used to be one of them. About 25 years ago, she began her specialty retail career with two carts at Plymouth Meeting Mall in Plymouth Meeting, PA. She went on to own and operate 11 RMUs in four different states over six years.

While a tenant at the Franklin Mills Mall in Philadelphia, PA, Monahan was approached by management about a leasing position in 1993. “I jumped the desk to the other side,” she says, crediting Franklin Mills’ Carole Asher, whom Monahan describes as her mentor, with teaching her the ropes.

For the past 12 years, Monahan has worked at Jersey Gardens in Elizabeth, NJ, where she currently manages a specialty leasing program with 41 RMUs, 15 kiosks, 17 temporary in-line stores and 19 jewelers in a 6,000-square-foot jewelry exchange.

“When I talk with my tenants about margins or about why something isn’t working for them visually, they appreciate that I have been there,” she says. “A lot of our tenants are mom-and-pop shops, and I do a lot of mentoring. I love working with tenants from concept to completion. Some former tenants from 15 or 18 years ago still call me for advice, which I find very fulfilling,” she adds.

Looking back on her accomplishments over the years, Monahan is especially proud of her work with Lollipop Boutique at Franklin Mills. “At first, the owners didn’t know what product they wanted to offer on their cart,” she says of the operator that, with Monahan’s guidance, focused on specialty apparel for weddings and first communions and grew into a kiosk and then temporary store and, ultimately, a successful permanent store.

Monahan says her position requires that she think outside the box, a skill she says she learned when she worked as an event planner for IBM before getting into specialty retail. “You have to think about how you can turn a space into something unique,” says Monahan, who jokes that she is a “frustrated visual merchandiser.” She was particularly proud of the lush caravan-style kiosk she came up with for a tenant’s palm-reading concept. Monahan’s visual merchandising abilities have earned her several Visual Victory awards from Specialty Retail Report,, as well as various merchandising awards from Glimcher, the real estate investment trust company that owns Jersey Gardens.

Things have changed in specialty retail since Monahan entered the industry, and the changes have created new challenges. “Over the past decade, there has been an explosion in temporary leasing of inline stores,” she says, noting that she wasn’t trained in working with inline stores and had to learn as she went along. Temporary inline stores are a win-win for properties and tenants, Monahan says. “For tenants, they provide a way to test out a product or a location,” she says. “And filling empty stores with temporary tenants is an invaluable source of revenue for properties.”

Duffy C. Weir

Duffy Weir is the former vice president and director of specialty retail and marketing at The Rouse Company of Columbia, MD. Now an independent retail marketing and sponsorship consultant and writer, Weir travels the world searching for what she says "makes marketplaces tick." She can be reached at or 410.252.8885.

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