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COMMENTARY

Discount Diva: Will mall melee mean more turnover for Walden Galleria?

After a post-Christmas melee left merchants in emergency lockdown and customers fleeing, some Walden Galleria tenants are threatening to walk.

That’s the word from a leasing source and at least two retailers at a time when stores re-evaluate the year’s profits and decide whether to renew leases.

But it could be just a bargaining chip stores are using to negotiate new contract terms. The leasing source doesn’t expect any big names to depart. And it will be a little while until we see who will pull the plug – if anyone – and who will stick around.

Until then, here’s what else is going on at Galleria:

Walden Galleria customer service is nonexistent. Literally.

The mall has closed its guest services booth. All that remains is a currency exchange kiosk and a beleaguered currency exchange worker who probably gets bothered with mall customer service questions 100 times a day.

You are free, however, to flag down security guards and ask them a question, or visit them on the second floor near RPM Raceway. Wheelchair rental is still available at the security office, too.

Gift cards are gone, too.

It’s a decision that was made by the shopping center’s corporate headquarters more than a year ago but it’s a sign of the times. Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls USA, Eastern Hills, Boulevard and McKinley all stopped selling gift cards, too.

Turns out, those gift card programs can be expensive to run (staffing, supplies, machines, bank fees), and the malls see no return on them. Now that mall rents have decreased, the costs of running the mall have increased, and stores have their own gift cards; it doesn’t make sense for malls to offer them.

Lord & Taylor is closing 20 percent of its stores.

JC Penney is closing three stores and evaluating others. Analysts at Cowen & Co. think the chain could close 15 percent of its stores. Could one of them be at Galleria?

Walden Galleria to boost police, review policy after fights

There’s some confusion with Gift-ology.

The Massachusetts-based gift shop originally planned to close all of its stores, but has decided to keep a handful open.

The weird part is one of the stores it was supposed to keep open is at Eastern Hills Mall – which has already closed.

Eastern Hills said the company is still on track to remodel and reopen. But the company told me only the Walden Galleria store, plus ones in Syracuse, South Carolina and Massachusetts will remain open.

Much of the Galleria Gift-ology store is empty, though. The leftover clearance merchandise from the Eastern Hills store (which had a planned sell-off sale) has been moved to the front corner and is being sold for 75 percent off.

A worker said it will fill back up again after its owners complete a buying trip in Atlantic City, where it will choose all new vendors.

On a happy note, the Microsoft Store robot is back.

The little guy – who can answer questions about products and exchange simple pleasantries – was put away during the Christmas chaos. He’s back out front now to welcome you to the store (or bust out freestyle dance moves).

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