Rendering of Epicenter layout.

LAS VEGAS — Consumers soon will be able to browse a wide selection of their favorite catalogue and Internet brands in person without leaving the mall.<BR><BR>Epicenter Holdings Inc., an affiliate of Gordon Group Holdings LLC, recently revealed a...

LAS VEGAS — Consumers soon will be able to browse a wide selection of their favorite catalogue and Internet brands in person without leaving the mall.

Epicenter Holdings Inc., an affiliate of Gordon Group Holdings LLC, recently revealed a new shopping center concept designed to reuse vacant mall anchor locations, bringing together catalogue- and Internet-based retailers in a showcase format. The concept, called Epicenter Collection, is expected to bow in a 180,000-square-foot anchor spot at the Glimcher Realty Trust-owned Polaris Fashion Place in Columbus, Ohio, in 2006. Epicenter Collection is expected to house 70 branded apparel, accessories, home and beauty catalogue and Internet retailers; the company is eyeing prospective companies such as Red Envelope, L.L. Bean, Dooney & Bourke and Hold Everything, executives said at the International Council of Shopping Centers spring convention here on May 23.

“We’re offering [catalogue and Internet retailers] an opportunity to come in and build a store, build a presentation-showroom, for what would be less than $100 a square foot, with a short-term commitment of a three-year lease,” explained Ray Carew, Epicenter’s executive vice president of business development. He said Epicenter also is “talking to existing retailers that may not have stores within that mall and may not want to invest when it costs $500 a square foot to put a store in, and then sign a 10-year lease.”

Epicenter Collection will center around a racetrack design within the typical two-level anchor store site. Showrooms designed to the retailer’s specifications off the racetrack design will focus on visual displays, where customers can touch and purchase merchandise. The showcases range from 600 square feet to 6,000 square feet, with the average size being around 1,500 square feet, Carew said. Kiosks of 100 square feet are also available.

“As retail designers, one of the things we see happening a lot is the huge number of brands that want to experiment with a storefront now — and they’re very well-known brands in retail — but they’re just currently not in the mall,” said Jay Valgora, design principal of the WalkerGroup/CNI, the company that will help tenants design store showcases.

No specific retailers have been signed to the Epicenter concept. Carew said last week, however, that “the reaction has been very positive,” and an Epicenter spokeswoman said last Tuesday that the company is “in final negotiations with a few retailers.” Around 100 Epicenters are expected to eventually open in the U.S. and abroad.

This story first appeared in the June 6, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Technology will be an important part of the new concept. A handheld device, which Epicenter calls a “buypod”— incorporating touch-screen and bar code scanning technology — will allow customers to easily purchase merchandise without waiting in a checkout line. And given that tenants will likely be catalogue or Internet retailers, they would most likely ship purchases directly to a customer’s home and have minimum inventory on hand at the Epicenter, Carew said.

Epicenter Collection, the brainchild of Greenwich, Conn.-based Gordon Group, the developer of Las Vegas’ Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, has been in development for roughly five years, according to Carew. Its structure took shape after the recent consolidations in the department store sector, which are expected to leave vacant anchor spots.

A lease has not been finalized for one of the seven anchor locations that Epicenter Collection will occupy at Polaris Fashion Place; current anchor positions are filled by Sears, Saks Fifth Avenue, J.C. Penney, Macy’s, The Great Indoors and Kaufmann’s, according to the mall’s Web site. Lord & Taylor, which is owned by May Department Stores Inc., closed its 140,000-square-foot anchor spot in January as part of the company’s plan to shutter underperforming locations, a May spokeswoman said. That anchor spot is expected to reopen in November, reportedly leased by the department store chain Von Maur.

Either the 200,000-square-foot Kaufmann’s, which also is operated by May, or the 180,000-square-foot Macy’s, which is operated by Federated Department Stores Inc., could be closed due to the recent merger of the two department store chains. The Sears store at Polaris is 185,000 square feet and could be affected by the recent Sears-Kmart merger.

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