New stores open at Christiana Mall ahead of holiday shopping season
Kendra Scott, Tag Heuer and Squishable highlight some of the new stores opening at the Christiana Mall ahead of the holiday shopping season. 11/7/23
Enclosed malls and large shopping centers abounded what would become the Christiana Mall. Concord Mall in Talleyville, Tri-State Mall in Claymont, Triangle Mall in Hare’s Corner and the Merchandise Mart on Gov. Printz Boulevard represented what some considered an already overcrowded landscape. One store owner who complained to the The News Journal in 1976 that New Castle County was “over-malled” said the Christiana Mall would be “a disaster.”
By the early 1970s when The Rubin Company began engineering a shopping mall on roughly 100 acres of farm land at I-95 and Route 7 in Christiana, Delaware had already gone through the first phase of a shopping mall boom.
With perfect hindsight vision, it’s clear the Christiana Mall is the retail center that has withstood time’s tests, persisting through years of forecasts of brick and mortar retail’s demise and mall apocalypses.
That persistence has come, of course, with change. The Christiana Mall is a long way from its inaugural anchors Strawbridge & Clothier and Bamberger’s.
“Malls are living breathing elements and they have to change with the environment,” said General Manager Steve Chambliss. “Whether it’s customer demand or demographics or circumstances bigger than the mall, you always have to be ahead of that curve.”
His work each year builds to these final six weeks of the calendar, opening new stores and putting on “our best show for the shoppers” at the winter holidays. Kendra Scott, a jewelry and accessories store, Jack and Janie, a children’s clothing store, and the watch brand Tag Heuer opened earlier this month.
Beyond what’s new this year, Delaware Online/The News Journal spoke with Chambliss about how the mall has bucked retail doomsday predictions.
1. Tax-free shopping
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way.
The Christiana Mall is in a prime location to take advantage of Delaware’s tax-free status. On any given weekend, the area’s parking lots of filled with the license plates of neighboring states.
“There are a lot of reasons that help this location,” Chambliss said. “It’s so easy to access… An hour in any direction this is the best place to come.”
2. Major renovation brought Target and new life
In the late 2000s, Christiana Mall had lost two of its four anchors Strawbridge’s and Lord & Taylor.
The mall’s owner at the time General Growth Properties embarked on a renovation project to breathe new life into the facility. Among the changes were an outdoor plaza on the east side of the mall, a new food court, additional retail space for the likes of Barnes and Noble and Forever 21 and the construction of two new anchor stores.
Those anchor stores, Nordstrom and Target, helped Christiana Mall remain relevant as other malls aged.
Target in particular gave the mall a new appeal. It became a place for grocery and furniture shopping in addition to selling clothing. A 2018 estimate said Target generated the second-highest sales of any store at the mall behind only the Apple store.
“Adding that to the mall was very strategic,” said Jonathan Ramel, vice president of Morningstar credit, a firm that produces tools and information for real estate investors. “It definitely paid off. It’s an all-serving property.”
3. Restaurant appeal
That late 2000s renovation also introduced a restaurant district of sorts to the west side of the mall with the additions of California Pizza Kitchen, Brio Tuscan Grill and J.B. Dawson’s (the project also added The Cheesecake Factory on the opposite side).
The restaurant area is now in a second wave. Tommy’s Tavern + Tap and Tio Taco + Tequila replaced CPK and J.B. Dawson’s. A P.F. Chang’s is slated to replace a closed Panera Bread.
“Our world is very fluid,” Chambliss said. “It’s not build it and walk away. If you fall behind, it’s too hard to catch up.”
Successful restaurants are destinations unto themselves and self-supporting, Chambliss said, but they can also benefit from foot traffic the mall’s shops generate.
“Malls need to be more than just shopping in today’s world,” he said. “It includes entertainment and dining as part of the expectations of the shoppers.”
4. Online retailers need a physical presence
A more recent trend in retail has seen online-first businesses add brick-and-mortar locations.
The types of businesses that were supposed to eat away at traffic at the mall have decided that they need a physical footprint to build familiarity with their products. Casper and Purple, both mattress stores, are among the companies seeking small spaces in top-level malls to allow customers to try their products without holding inventory.
Other companies like Lululemon straddle both worlds with a robust physical and digital presence.
5. One-story layout
As part of his job, Ramel visits retail properties across the region and produces “boots on the ground” reports.
On his visit to Christiana Mall last year, Ramel noted the mall’s one-story layout as unique.
“It’s very cohesive,” he said. “It keeps people there.”
The mall has been expanded three times, but each time had room to grow horizontally. Chambliss said the layout gives the mall operational advantages.
“You don’t have all of the complications of elevators and escalators and delivery issues. All of that stuff is much simpler,” Chambliss said. “If it was two levels it could be more condensed. At the time when they built it it was a really smart move.”
Chambliss said the construction of the Christiana Fashion Center, which first opened in 2015, has helped the mall by making the area a stronger shopping destination. While it does create traffic problems, Chambliss sees the fashion center and its stores, many of which are discount retailers, as complementary to the mall’s offerings.
Chambliss said there are no plans for an expansion but “we’re always looking for opportunities.” His team expects a normal amount of rollover with between 10% and 20% of leases due for renewal or replacement in each of the coming years.
Contact Brandon Holveck at email@example.com. Follow him on X @holveck_brandon.