Editor’s note: This is the last of an occasional series of articles in which WWD visited markets “off the beaten path” of the regular retail and fashion haunts of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. In the series, which took readers on a journey across the U.S., WWD examined how peripheral markets evolve, what brands are in demand, how retailers merchandise their goods and what it takes to thrive. This final installment looks at Wellington, Fla., a village in love with horses — and shopping.
WELLINGTON, Fla. — This village used to be all about horses, until the first enclosed shopping center opened four years ago.
Now, the 1.3 million-square-foot Mall at Wellington Green is the heart of the community. But the village’s equine industry, one that stretches back to the late Seventies, has also heartily survived — although not without some mall-related controversy.
“When the mall was first coming, [the equestrian community] was quite adamant in opposition to it. They felt the mall would disturb their way of life, but we’ve worked hard to preserve it,” said Wellington village manager Charles Lynn, who added that the equestrians are now frequent shoppers at the mall’s 150 stores.
The opening of the Mall at Wellington Green filled a need in this community for convenience. Residents no longer need to travel 25 to 30 minutes to visit a regional mall, or about 45 minutes to the area’s famous luxury shopping mecca, Worth Avenue on Palm Beach Island. Wellington is a 31-square-mile suburb located several miles southwest of West Palm Beach.
“When the mall came along, we were the nucleus of what was really going to become the hub of retail activity for this part of the county, not just Wellington, but also the communities around us,” said Larry Beermann, general manager of the Mall at Wellington Green, which is owned and managed by Taubman Centers Inc.
Despite its acceptance now, the Mall at Wellington Green spurred several disputes among the community, before and during its infancy. There were concerns over potential increases in traffic and whether Wellington should pave roads that have historically been dirt, a terrain more compatible with tender horse hooves.
The village widened several large thoroughfares since the mall went up, and the impact on traffic at the entrances of the mall has not been as bad as some expected, Beermann said. He credited the mall’s circular road design that includes four entry lanes. “We have never had so much traffic that it has backed up to the city streets and caused congestion.”
Still, traffic has increased in some equestrian areas of the town. Some of the dirt roads were eventually paved due to demands from some residents, as well as increased traffic from newer housing and other retail developments built close to the mall. As a remedy, the town eventually installed speed bumps and roundabouts in more heavily trafficked, equestrian areas.
It’s clear the village is still experiencing a certain amount of growing pains: Lynn said some residents want the speed bumps removed.
“The mall, as far as I can see, has not had a negative impact. It’s been a very positive thing for the community,” said Lynn, who called the mall Wellington’s “Main Street” because before it opened the village was without a central shopping area. The village still doesn’t have a hotel, though a Hampton Inn & Suites is being built and is set to open in early 2006.
The Mall at Wellington Green is anchored by Macy’s (formerly a Burdine’s), Dillard’s, J.C. Penney, City Furniture and Nordstrom. Specialty stores include Ann Taylor, Abercrombie & Fitch, Aéropostale and Charlotte Russe, to name a few.
Beermann said a majority of shoppers are parents who regularly make higher-end purchases, such as fine jewelry, while their children shop at teen-centric stores such as Jimmy’Z, and American Eagle Outfitters. As a result, Beermann said many of the mall’s retailers are seeing double-digit increases in sales.
Five sit-down restaurants are also in the mall, including California Pizza Kitchen and Ruby Tuesday. And several stand-alone retailers anchor smaller shopping areas within the mall’s 470-acre parcel, including Barnes & Noble, Linens-N-Things and Office Depot. The mall itself sits on 110 acres.
The economic impact from the mall on the village of Wellington has also been significant. When the mall opened, for example, it added roughly 2,000 jobs to the community, Beermann said. In addition, about 12,000 homes have been built in a 5-mile radius of the mall since it has been open, according to Beermann.
Aside from the Mall at Wellington Green, Wellington has about three industrial parks (with more on the way) and a handful of strip malls, typically offering necessities such as groceries and drugstores. Some of the strip malls are surviving better than others, mainly depending on the caliber of grocery store that anchors it.
Wellington’s economy — thanks to the town’s housing boom — is going gangbusters. According to a recent study done by a local newspaper, the Palm Beach Post, the median sale price of homes and condos in Wellington, which was incorporated as a municipality in 1996, jumped to $326,422 in 2004 from $200,000 in 2002.
And in just under 10 years, the city’s population has leapt to an estimated 60,000 residents, from about 25,000 in 1996, according to Lynn, who has worked for the village of Wellington for nine years.
The quality of the community’s public school system is also driving people to the village. Last year, 78 percent of Wellington’s eight public schools posted grades A or B based on scores from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Additionally, the community is known for its lush parks and plentiful recreation areas, Lynn said, which helps draw families.
A large portion of the housing subdivisions in Wellington were built in the Nineties, although the equestrian area was done in the Sixties and Seventies. The northern part of Wellington is very suburban, attracting what Lynn calls the “soccer mom group.”
The equestrian preserve takes up much of the southern section of the village. Horse stables intermingle with polo fields and sprawling estates. Although the equestrian folks — most of whom are part-time residents — provide the majority of wealth in the community, they are a minority in Wellington.
“The growth that we’ve experienced in the shopping center is the direct result of the people moving into the market and seeing the Mall at Wellington Green as their shopping scene. They don’t have to leave Wellington or Palm Beach County anymore. They can do it here,” said Beermann.