The retail apocalypse: Where we're at, and how Sears played a part.

3 months ago by Joshua Fruhlinger in Facts

Have you heard of the "retail apocalypse"? With consumers increasingly turning to e-commerce to get their goods, some are out in the virtual streets warning that the end of brick-and-mortar shopping is nigh.

It's certainly possible that the retail apocalypse is looming. Toys "R" Us shut its doors for the final time. Sears is the subject of a morbid death watch. Kmart (Sears' sibling) is expected to close more stores. Even Walmart closed stores. Put all that together, and it's easy to believe that retail is done for.

According to the data, retail apocalypse believers appear to be neither right or wrong. Indeed, in November, there was a jump in available retail space in terms of square footage. On November 24, there were about 52.4 million square feet of available retail space. By the next day, there were 57.2 million available square feet — a noticeable jump. So what happened?

It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what causes the jump in available square footage. But given the fact that the average Sears that was forced to close closed took up 68,000 square feet of retail space, one can certainly surmise what happened this winter. By comparing the number of listings for retail space labeled as "Sears" by major REITS, we see a major jump for one landlord in particular: Brixmor Property Group.

Entity Name

Sears Properties 11/24

Sears Properties 11/25

Simon Property Group

122

121

CBL & Associates Properties

83

83

General Growth Properties

76

75

Macerich

60

60

Brixmor Property Group

12

59

Pyramid Management Group

7

12

Kimco Realty

7

9

Shopping Center Group

4

7

InvenTrust Properties

3

7

GK Development

3

4

So here's what happened: On the 25th of November, 2018, REITs began listing their Sears retail spaces as potentially available spaces. Indeed, on November 15, 2018. Simon Property Group (the top Sears lessor as you can see above) and Brixmor Property Group called for immediate liquidation of Sears' stores. 

So what did Brixmor do about a week later? It put dozens of Sears properties up for lease. In an October earnings call, Brixmor ($NYSE:BRX) CEO James Taylor saw the Sears closings as an opportunity, indenting to "capitalize quickly on this opportunity" created by Sears' bankruptcy, to evict sears, and "meaningfully upgrade [its] centers."

Since those liquidations and openings, however, the available square feet of retail space has remained constant, even moving up a bit. There was a small seasonal drop in available space in early December, which is to be expected as retailers hone in on holiday shoppers. And, to be fair to the REITs, this year's available square footage is about 11% lower than last year, which can only be a good sign for the retail space.

That is, of course, assuming that REITs do indeed "meaningfully upgrade" their centers. For now, at least, it seems the retail apocalypse is still to come, if ever.

Joshua Fruhlinger

Joshua has been writing about technology, lifestyle, and business for over 20 years. He's one of the original writers and editors for Engadget, and still writes a...

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