Biz Beat

Goodbye, Forever 21. What should fill its massive Vintage Faire Mall space instead?

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After being on the endangered list, Modesto’s Forever 21 is now officially going extinct.

The company released its list of confirmed store closures last week, sealing the Vintage Faire Mall store’s fate. The Modesto location had been on a list of potential closures since early October, when the company targeted 178 under-performing locations as part of its ongoing bankruptcy proceedings.

The final list of 111 store closures features 29 California locations including the Modesto site and one at the Westville Galleria in Roseville. Store closing signs have already gone up at the Vintage Faire site.

Now that our Forever 21 will definitely close, it leaves an enormous three-story hole in mall’s retail landscape. So the question automatically becomes, “What’s gonna fill all that space?”

Forever 21 has been in Vintage Faire Mall, owned by parent company Macerich, since 2001. But in 2009, it dramatically increased its profile when it moved from its existing 6,500-square-foot space to the 154,500-square-foot anchor spot in Center Court once occupied by the now defunct Gottshalks.

The Modesto mall already dodged a major bullet when the Sears store, one of its other anchors, closed at the start of this year. It only took the mall a few months to find new tenants for the two-story, 148,500-square-foot space. Entertainment center Dave & Busters is taking over the store’s top floor, with Dick’s Sporting Goods moving into the bottom space, and HomeGoods taking over Dick’s existing standalone space on Dale Road.

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Forever 21 store at Vintage Faire Mall in Modesto, Calif., Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. Andy Alfaro

But can that kind of leasing lighting strike twice at the 42-year old mall?

It’s nice to dream about what we’d like to come into the space, but the likelihood of finding one retailer to take all three stories is slim. Instead, it seems more feasible that the space will be split up, like the Sears spot.

Jaylen French, director of community and economic development for the city of Modesto, remains relatively optimistic about the closure.

“While it is unfortunate to see the Forever 21 store potentially close, we recognize these things happen in the changing retail environment, as recently occurred with other large stores,” he said in an email. “Macerich has done a fantastic job of filling vacancies with like uses or new and innovative uses (e.g. Dave and Busters). We look forward to assisting or working alongside them to fill this vacancy. Despite the difficulties of some malls, the Vintage Faire Mall continues to be a thriving retail center.”

Meanwhile, Vintage Faire spokeswoman Annie Amies sounded a measured note about the closure.

“Forever 21 has been a valued part of our retail experience at Vintage Faire,” she said. “The situation is still evolving, and our executives are in discussions as to how this will affect us long-term.”

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If the space were to split, that would leave approximately 50,000 square feet of retail space per floor. The top floor has gone unused through Forever 21’s decade tenure. Before that during its Gottschalks days, it was The Grill on The Third, serving soups, salads, sandwiches and more.

So a restaurant isn’t beyond the pale for at least some of the space. But before you get all excited and scream, “Call Cheesecake Factory, STAT!” here is a little perspective. According to The Cheesecake Factory’s 2018 annual report, the company’s existing restaurants range from 5,000 to 21,000 square feet in interior size. The majority of its new restaurants, it said, would open between 7,500 and 10,000 square feet.

That is a lot less than the roughly 50,000 square feet available per floor in the Forever 21 space, making the likelihood of the much-coveted restaurant coming to our mall that much dimmer — regardless of all other factors.

Another frequent reader request, that the city bring back Roller King or some kind of similar roller-skating rink, also has size issues. The once popular rink was open from 1974 to 2005 on Briggsmore Avenue. In 2015, it was converted to be the home of the Center for Human Services.

But Roller King, big as it may have seemed, was only 28,000 square feet. Again, that’s much smaller than what just one floor of the Forever 21 space could potentially fit.

Another unusual option would be an ice rink. The city already has a very popular seasonal outdoor rink, Modesto on Ice, that pops up during winter months downtown in the shadow of the DoubleTree.

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Forever 21 store at Vintage Faire Mall in Modesto, Calif., Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. Andy Alfaro

Modesto has had a full-time ice rink before. In 1972, the Olympic Gold Ice Arena opened on Stoddard Avenue and Tully Road. But it burned down in 1976. That space, interestingly, started life in 1942 as an ice rink, then became a roller rink in the 1950s before closing all together in the 1960s.

Other wish lists might include an IKEA for lovers of affordable Scandinavian design and Swedish meatballs with lingonberries. But with stores typically running from 200,000 to 450,000 square feet — with an average of 320,000 square feet — it appears to be the rare retailer that would actually be too big for the space. Plus, California only has eight IKEA locations as is.

While high-end retailers like Nordstrom or Saks Fifth Avenue are more than likely out of our price bracket, it’s not beyond the pale to think their discount cousins Nordstrom Rack and Saks Off 5th might be a better fit with the Modesto mall.

Whatever eventually moves into the Forever 21 space should be a strong indicator of the retail shopping center’s future outlook. Let’s all hope Macerich can pull another rabbit out of its hat.

Until then, while there’s no official word yet on when the Modesto Forever 21 will shutter for good, it’s definitely time to look through your drawers for old gift cards. Sales are expected to go through the holidays. But be sure to try on any of your potential purchases in store, because all sales are finale during liquidation sales. The company will honor its gift cards during bankruptcy, so use ’em if you got ’em. Because, as always, nothing lasts forever.

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Marijke Rowland writes about new business, restaurant and retail developments. She has been with The Modesto Bee since 1997 covering a variety of topics including arts and entertainment. Her Business Beat column runs multiple times a week. And it’s pronounced Mar-eye-ke.
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