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Lease expirations signal turnovers at WNY shopping malls

If you walk the malls this week, it will look as if some stores vanished overnight.

That’s because they did.

This is the time of year when malls shed tenants, shuffle stores and rejigger retailer footprints.

It’s a natural phase in the retail life cycle. Mall leases often end Jan. 31, resulting in heavy turnover each February. Struggling retailers tend to ride out the busy holiday season, take a month selling off excess inventory through January, then jump ship just as consumer traffic slows to a crawl.

The stores that remain often take advantage of the newly vacated space, swapping out old locations for new ones, or spreading out and claiming some of the excess square footage for themselves. Others use the slow winter months to temporarily close shop and remodel their existing space.

Here’s an overview of local malls:

• Walden Galleria has lost five leases. Its Coffee Culture cafe is one of three Western New York locations to go dark. Stride Rite, a children’s shoe store which has closed several stores nationwide, shuttered its store on the second floor near Pole Position. Stride Rite’s closest location is now at the Eastview Mall in Victor, though other stores sell its footwear line. Boost Mobile has opened in its place.

Upscale women’s retailer Ann Taylor, which announced its departure in December, has moved out. Chosen Frozen, a frozen yogurt restaurant, and Phone Vibe, a cellphone accessories store on the second floor near Macy’s, have also closed. Another, yet unnamed phone accessories store will open in the former Phone Vibe location soon.

ALDO, a Montreal-based shoe and accessories store near Starbucks, has closed temporarily. It will be remodeled and reopen in about six weeks.

“We are working closely with other exciting national retailers and will be making announcements once the leases are signed,” said Alex Corbelli, the Galleria’s assistant marketing director.

At least two new stores are coming to the Galleria. A Vans store, which sells sneakers, apparel and accessories, will open during the first week of March. And though the Galleria has not yet confirmed it, outdoor clothing and gear retailer Eddie Bauer has been soliciting store manager applications on its website for a Galleria location.

• Boulevard Mall has lost five tenants. Hollister, a struggling teen clothing brand, is gone. Its locations at Walden Galleria and McKinley Mall remain open. Foot Locker closed, with a commitment to expand the selection at its revamped Foot Action and Kids Foot Locker subsidiary stores elsewhere in Boulevard Mall. Yankee Candle closed, too, in favor of a new location nearby in Boulevard Consumer Square on Niagara Falls Boulevard.

Yogen Fruz, an Ontario-based frozen yogurt and smoothie franchise, has closed. The chain entered the market in 2009 with intentions of opening more than a dozen stores in Western New York. It has since closed another location at Eastern Hills Mall, but has remaining stores at Walden Galleria and Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls.

Poster Art, which has been a staple on Elmwood Avenue for years, closed its Boulevard Mall location. The As Seen on TV store is in the process of moving into that space from its own spot a couple of doors down.

Same-Day Custom, a new customized T-shirt store which also owns Customized Teez, will open where As Seen on TV was.

The spot vacated by Yogen Fruz will soon be filled by a similar tenant, a yet-to-be-named local smoothie-maker.

Boulevard Mall officials said they are in negotiations on three or four new leases and expect to announce more tenants soon. “These spots should be filled again by spring,” said Brian Calvert, mall manager.

• Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls, which relies on Canadian cross-border shoppers for a majority of its sales, has seen a marked drop in traffic since the Canadian dollar began dropping in value. But it has been steadily adding leases since it unveiled its $71 million expansion in 2014. The mall lost its Stride Rite store. Toys R Us Express and Shamrock Chic, a Celtic clothing and gift shop, have also closed.

Foot Locker, which has an exterior store on the mall’s Military Road side, is closed for remodeling. It plans to reopen in the same spot around Feb. 27. MK Men’s, a Michael Kors clothing outlet, will open next to the Michael Kors outlet near Starbucks by March.

• Eastern Hills Mall has lost Express, a young men’s and women’s apparel retailer. The previously announced closure of Macy’s, one of the mall’s anchors, is expected to be complete by March. The store is currently running an inventory-reduction sale. The mall is working on buying the Macy’s property in order to set the stage for the mall’s redevelopment.

• McKinley Mall is also experiencing fallout from the national Macy’s restructuring. Both its Macy’s and Macy’s Home stores will close, probably by the end of March. The mall has also lost Pacific Sunwear, a California-inspired youth apparel store.

Several stores in the McKinley Mall will also reshuffle to new spaces.

Christopher & Banks has moved from its spot between Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret to a bigger, brighter Missy Petites Women concept across from the Bon-Ton in the former Gap Kids space. That store replaces its sister CJ Banks store, as well. Bath & Body Works will move into the former PacSun with a new Bath & Body Works and White Barn Candle concept that will open April 15.

New Age Creations has vacated its spot next to Victoria’s Secret until March, when it will take over the current Bath & Body Works location. Victoria’s Secret will expand into the two storefronts vacated by New Age Creations and Christopher & Banks. Prima Oliva has moved into the former Radio Shack space, doubling its footprint. I Fix, a phone repair and accessories store, will open in March next to a new Zale’s jewelry store that opened in December. Customized Teez has opened in the former CJ Banks location. Nailtique Salon will also expand, with an anticipated June opening.

First-quarter store closures are cyclical and expected, so vacancies are nothing to be too concerned about, said the International Council of Shopping Centers. Typically, 50 percent of all store closings happen during the first quarter of the year.

Indeed, the ICSC expects to see fewer closures this year than last, according to Tom McGee, president and CEO of the ICSC. The industry saw 3,465 stores close during the first quarter last year. This year’s first quarter closures should tally closer to 2014’s total of 2,192.

“That isn’t to suggest that hard work isn’t required by the leasing teams to turn over that space – it is – but it’s certainly not a reason to be concerned about the industry at large,” McGee said. “In fact, it represents opportunity for properties to bring in fresh tenants that can complement the centers’ tenant mix in a meaningful way.”