BARBOURSVILLE — Within the past few weeks, officials with the Huntington Mall in Barboursville have confirmed that the Disney Store, Pandora and Cosimos Pizza were all closing.

"We understand that when a familiar name closes at the mall, it can be upsetting for many folks," said Joe Bell, the corporate spokesperson for the Huntington Mall. "Sometimes we are surprised by some of the stores' decisions to close because it doesn't matter if the store was popular locally or doing well financially. In the case of the Disney Store, it appears that the closing of this store is part of a strategy Disney has been pursuing for the past few years, systematically closing most, if not all, of its retail stores."

Bell says the mall is currently in negotiations with several businesses to move into the available space left by those three stores, but cannot announce them until a deal is finalized.

"We are always marketing the mall and trying to find the best fits to serve the community's needs," Bell said.

Despite the recent store closings, Bell says the Huntington Mall has actually had continued growth.

Since 2016, five stores have either gone out of business or announced they were leaving the mall complex, according to Bell.

"Those include Elder-Beerman, Toys R Us, the Disney Store, Pandora and Cosimos Pizza," Bell said.

During that same time period, nearly a dozen stores arrived or will arrive soon at the mall complex, Bell added.

"Those include Forever 21, Maurices, the Sprint Store, Charley's Grilled Steak, Francesca's, Torrid, Shoe Dept. Encore, Pandora (which just closed), Field & Stream, TJ Maxx and HomeGoods, which took over the old Elder-Beerman space, and Extreme Air, which is coming soon to the old Toys R Us 45,000-square-foot building," Bell said. "As you can see, there was actually more growth than shrinkage in terms of the occupancy."

Bell said Extreme Air is an indoor trampoline park business that is hoping for a fall opening.

Since the mall opened in 1981, businesses have come and gone, and during all that time the mall has kept an occupancy rate above 90%.

"We don't get overly excited when stores come and go," Bell said. "It comes in cycles. This is the way of the retail shopping industry."

Currently, the mall complex encompasses approximately 1.5 million square feet of retail space. It is the largest shopping mall in West Virginia.

"At my last count, I tallied 117 different businesses," Bell said. "Keep in mind, that number goes up or down as new stores open and others close."

Current trends

Bell says there is no denying that many retailers are going through turbulent times. A recent report by thebalance.com, which covers personal finance, career and small-business topics, as well as retail sales statistics and trends, estimated that nearly 3,800 stores across the country are expected to close their doors by year's end.

"Some retailers have weathered this turbulent time better than others by continuing to update their business models to properly manage both their physical and online locations," Bell said.

"Meanwhile, lots of big national chains over-leveraged with too much debt and fell to the forces of the current economy in the retail shopping industry."

The retail industry has undergone a significant transformation over the past decade, and it continues to evolve quickly, he said.

"The market is quickly evolving, and retailers must adapt to new shifts in demographics, attitudes and consumer preferences," Bell said.

The report indicated that consumers are also looking for deals more than ever when it comes to brick-and-mortar retail locations.

"Stores that understand and overcome these retail shopping trends will thrive," Bell said. "Retailers that don't will go the way of familiar names in the past, like Montgomery Ward, RadioShack and others."

In 2019, 5,994 stores closed in the first three months. That compares with 5,864 for all of 2018. The hardest hit were Payless, Gymboree and Charlotte Russe, according to the report.

The report predicts that more stores will tie their online websites to their brick-and-mortar stores. That way, they can offer the best of both worlds, which is the convenience of online with the customer service of the local neighborhood shop.

Current statistics

U.S. retail sales fell 0.2% in April, according to the U.S. Census Department. Growth was dampened by a 1.9% decrease in building materials sales.

Electronics and appliance store sales fell 1.3%. Grocery store sales declined by 1.2%. Auto sales fell by 1.2%, while clothing was down 0.2%.

Department store sales rose by just 0.7%. Department store sales were down 3% since last year. That's due to strong competition from online retailers.whose sales were up 9% over last year.

Year-over-year retail sales were up 3.1% in April 2019 compared with April 2018.

Retailing is undergoing two significant shifts. The first is online shopping and the other is a result of changes in consumer behavior.

In regard to technology, online retail has grown 300% between 2000 and 2018, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. During the same time period, department store sales have dropped almost 50%.

Mall's future

The 1.5 million-square-foot Huntington Mall complex has been serving the people of West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky since 1981. It is located off U.S. 60 and Interstate 64 at exit 20 in Barboursville.

"The mall is in a perfect location," Bell said. "Its proximity to I-64, eastern Kentucky, southern Ohio and southern West Virginia make it a perfect location to attract so many to the mall."

While many malls struggle to survive, Bell said the Huntington Mall has continued its growth.

"The number of visitors to the mall each year continues to increase," he said. "Our occupancy rates are much higher than the national average."

The mall is owned and managed in association with the Cafaro family of companies, based in Niles, Ohio, one of the nation's largest privately held shopping center developers. The Cafaro organization has developed more than 30 million square feet of commercial real estate in 14 states.

"The ownership of the Huntington Mall believes in reinvesting and reinventing," Bell said. "Nothing is going to stay the same in the retail shopping industry, so reinvesting and reinventing to remain fresh and attractive to all types of businesses has been a key to the mall's success."

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.

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