NATICK, MA — With the closure of Lord & Taylor and the impending closure of Neiman Marcus, the Natick Mall will soon be without two major anchor tenants.
But that doesn't mean the mall is dead. The closings of two of the mall's other anchors in recent years — Sears and JC Penney — have breathed new life into the shopping destination.
A departure from the typical mall fare might be key to filling the Lord & Taylor and Neiman Marcus vacancies, according to commercial property experts. The large spaces could draw tenants ranging from biotech firms to fitness centers.
The Sears closure brought new entertainment attractions to the mall. Dave & Buster's took over the top floor, and plans are underway to bring Level 99, a gaming center, to the bottom floor. The JC Penney closed in 2015, but the space was transformed three years later into a 146,000-square-foot Wegman's — a major draw, and one of the few mall-based supermarkets around.
, whose Wayland-based R.W. Holmes Realty lists some of MetroWest's most high-profile commercial spaces, said that the trend away from big-box department stores has been clear for years due to online shopping. Pandemic closures haven't helped, either. The Natick Mall was completely closed from mid-March until early June.
Dallas-based Neiman Marcus announced a bankruptcy reorganization plan last month, joining a long list of retailers — Barney's, Forever 21, Stein Mart, and Sur La Table, whose Natick Mall store is closing — to go down that path. The closure was initially thought to be coming around the end of 2020, but in a statement to Patch this week, the company said the Natick store "will operate into 2021 with closing dates yet to be announced."
Simon Property Group, the nation's largest shopping mall owner whose holdings include Solomon Pond in Marlborough and the South Shore Plaza in Braintree, has tried to cut a deal with Amazon to bring fulfillment centers to empty anchor sites.
But a redeployment of anchor sites should serve the rest of the mall in some way, Holmes said. Biotech and life science companies are particularly keen to move into MetroWest, and the anchor sites could be a good fit for them. The anchor sites have almost no windows, which, unlike traditional offices, biotech firms don't typically need. Holmes pointed to the Cambridgeside Galleria, which is converting an entire upper floor into lab and office space.
Farther east down Route 9, the former Atrium Mall has been turned into the Atrium Center with a fertility clinic, Life Time Athletic gym and Dana Farber Cancer Institute offices. A Boston developer plans to demolish the beleaguered Greendale Mall in Worcester and replace it with apartments, retail and office space.
Another option could be an indoor sports complex, Holmes said. There are also a few major retailers missing from the Natick-Framingham shopping mix, like IKEA.
A Brookfield spokeswoman declined to comment for this story, saying the company would only be comfortable speaking when concrete plans are ready.
There's also the option of simply having smaller retailers move into the large anchor store sites, Holmes said. Whatever the replacement, it needs to bring shoppers into the building, he said.
"It's all about trying to bring people in and create demand and create foot traffic," Holmes said.