The Mall at Partridge Creek opened in 2007 in Clinton Township. Since then, millions have visited the outdoor mall for its array of stores, restaurants and other entertainment offerings.

The Mall at Partridge Creek opened in 2007 in Clinton Township. Since then, millions have visited the outdoor mall for its array of stores, restaurants and other entertainment offerings.

Photo provided by the Mall at Patridge Creek


As shopping evolves, Partridge Creek continues to draw big crowds

Operators, officials remain optimistic about changing retail market

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published October 1, 2019

 Bar Louie general manager Brian Kilbourn says working at this location has been the best experience of his career.

Bar Louie general manager Brian Kilbourn says working at this location has been the best experience of his career.

Photo by Donna Agusti

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — In October 2007, the Mall at Partridge Creek officially opened in Clinton Township, taking southeast Michigan by storm in an attempt to change the local retail industry.

The outdoor mall was a formidable step in a new, yet unknown direction for malls in the area. For 12 years, a variety of businesses have called the location home.

Being open year-round, in a state notorious for extreme weather, was initially viewed as flouting convention.

Yet annually, more than 10 1/2 million people visit Partridge Creek for shopping, dining and drinks, taking in a movie and more.

Over the years, shopping in general has changed drastically. Just this past August, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that e-commerce retail sales totaled about $146.2 billion in the second quarter of 2019 — an increase of about 4.2% from the previous quarter. Online sales in general grew 13.6% when compared with statistics from 2018.

Partridge Creek, which has about 90 unique stores and restaurants, has experienced its own losses.

Carson’s — which took over the former Parisian outlet in 2013 — closed its doors in June 2018 due to its parent company filing for bankruptcy. And just this past September, Nordstrom shut down after store officials said they looked at long-term performance, real estate agreements and future needs.

In a changing era for the consumer market, many still have faith that physical outlets will continue to be a mainstay in communities near and far. But as far as the future goes, skepticism exists.

 

‘A different feel and atmosphere’
Christina Bachmann is the marketing director for the mall’s corporate operators, Starwood Retail Partners. Starwood owns about 30 different traditional and lifestyle properties nationally.

Starwood took over after purchasing the mall in 2014 from Taubman Centers Inc., which had owned the mall since its inception. Starwood paid about $1.6 billion to acquire Partridge Creek and six other malls across the country.

“I think we’re very lucky in the concept and the structure itself,” Bachmann said. “It lends us to a different feel and atmosphere, and an environment that is a lot more inviting. It gives us flexibility to be able to weather industry trends.”

She said that when it comes to closures like Carson’s and Nordstrom, Starwood knows “change is coming” and is “not blind” to the ever-changing retail landscape. That includes not being “handcuffed” to one business or operation, due to the mixed retail concept that currently encapsulates the grounds.

“We want to make sure that we are looking forward, but continuing to meet the needs of all our customers,” she said. “While we, of course, want to fill these spaces for the long term, and our corporate development leasing teams are working diligently to do so, we want to keep that landscape in mind.”

Currently, Starwood’s corporate team is looking at different options in terms of leasing and business development as a means of filling current vacancies. While Bachmann would not disclose what possible businesses may move into those empty spaces, she confirmed that negotiations were “active” and that a focus was on longevity.

She said the mall offers more than just retail.

“Part of what leads to our success is our setup,” Bachmann said, referring to the agility of being able to host events, offer entertainment and provide a relaxing outdoor atmosphere.

“This area is growing, and we are looking to see about a 2% population increase in growth by 2023,” she added. “There’s going to be a need; there is a need. Businesses are expanding on the corridor here in Macomb, and there will be a need for retail, and we’re going to be here to fulfill it.”

 

An idea that has surpassed expectations
Clinton Township Supervisor Bob Cannon recalled when he first told local residents and groups about how the township wanted to be home to an outdoor mall.

“You could hear people gasp,” he said. “People said, ‘There are no outdoor malls, only inside malls.’”

He marketed the location as a perfect destination, outlining aspects of the community ingrained in daily life: a new library, new fire stations, the Hall Road corridor and the ability to bring in people from outside township limits.

Township Planning Director Bruce Thompson, who started in his current role about one year ago, said one of the first things he did was research Partridge Creek — one of 35 malls nationwide, he said, that are pet-friendly.

“It fits a very desirable niche,” Thompson said. “People spend millions on their dogs. … It’s something that is very attractive. It’s a regional type of draw as well. This mall isn’t just pulling from Clinton Township or Macomb Township or Sterling Heights.”

Clinton Township Building Department Superintendent Barry Miller said many permits were recently issued for businesses — stores such as L.L. Bean and Lululemon, for example. Some stores shift spaces to accommodate for more stock.

“We’re in (the mall) daily on different inspections,” Miller said. “If one (store) moves out, one comes back in. They don’t stay vacant very long.”

Miller said that “never once” has the township received a complaint regarding the mall’s condition.

Cannon called the grounds “pristine.” Weeds are nonexistent and landscaping is held to a high standard, he noted, and when a problem arises, it is fixed immediately.

Indoor malls just don’t function as well anymore, Thompson noted.

He is not oblivious to the fact that people of all ages will buy certain products online. However, “there are just certain things” people would rather buy in stores rather than through the internet.

“I think everybody understands that in the 21st century, you’re going to be doing shopping online,” Thompson said. “Retailers feel that pinch. But there are a lot of people who still want to be on their feet, go into stores.”

He said Partridge Creek is ahead of the curve, and is “very picky” about who it hires and works with to ensure that stores not only have a good working relationship with, say, a manager, but also that a connection exists and continues with township officials.

“Yes, it is a loss to lose a Nordstrom’s,” Cannon said. “It is a loss to lose, I still call it, Parisian. But we weren’t the only ones to lose a Carson’s, to lose a Nordstrom’s.”

 

‘I like touching what I’m buying’
Dee Consiglio, of Macomb Township, started visiting Partridge Creek about a year after it opened. She said the open air concept reminded her of how Eastland Center used to be.

She still goes to the mall about once per week — sometimes to grab food, and other times to shop or see movies. She enjoys Bar Louie and Cellar 59.

“I split (my shopping),” she said. “Amazon is really convenient, but I do a lot of in-store shopping. I like touching what I’m buying, especially if I’m buying clothes. A lot of times, I make an effort to physically go (to Partridge Creek) because I like the restaurants.”

Christine Parker, of Fraser, calls it “a beautiful mall in a reasonable location.” The atmosphere is infectious, she said, recalling how she took homecoming pictures of her daughter there.

“Years ago, the thought of an open-air mall in Michigan seemed preposterous,” Parker said. “I will admit that going in the cold months can be tricky, but there are stores there that I genuinely enjoy shopping at, so the weather is not really a factor.”

She has enjoyed additions such as L.L. Bean and Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant, but expresses hesitance at what the future holds for local consumers.

“I am sad that several anchors and additional larger stores are now, or will be shortly, gone,” she said. “I do truly enjoy going to Partridge Creek and I would be sad if it were to decline further to the point of not being viable at all.”

Consiglio echoed that sentiment, wondering what will happen down the road. She mentioned how some local, large indoor malls are quickly becoming a thing of the past, and she hopes outlet malls will not devour the nicer shopping centers.

“I think it’s really diverse,” Consiglio said. “I would love to see Macy’s move over there. They have shoe stores and jewelry stores that I like, and enough bars and food and specialty shops that I really like. I think it’s pretty diverse right now.”

Unlike anywhere else Bar Louie is one of the mall’s staples.

The establishment, which employs about 50 people, opened at around the same time the mall opened.

Brad Kilbourn is in his fourth year as Bar Louie’s general manager, formerly working for the same company in Flint and Ann Arbor.

He said the mall itself is a draw for consumers. On a daily basis, he sees people walking their dogs, or kids playing in fountains. Smartphone apps like Pokemon Go have increased foot traffic.

“The clientele out here is great, and things get better year after year,” Kilbourn said.

On the business side of things, he has witnessed an increase in profits every year since he came to the Clinton Township location. He said the establishment is “very lucky” due to the manner in which mall operators advertise and encourage people to frequent the grounds by way of offering aspects like live music and entertainment.

Having a full menu and a business open until 2 a.m. every day of the week helps too.

“When all the other places close down, they come over here. … It doesn’t feel like a mall to me. It feels like a hangout area. I’ve never experienced anything like it before.”

 

‘There’s always going to be a need for physical retail’
Bachmann said there will always be a need for malls, due to e-commerce sales accounting for only about 14% of the general U.S. retail market.

For malls like Partridge Creek, it’s about continuing to offer “the entire package.”

“A lot of times, we get into a doomsday mentality,” she said. “While yes, (online sales are) a significant portion, it’s not the whole piece of the pie. There’s always going to be a need for physical retail, and there’s a need for an experience. That’s what people are searching for.”

That includes the next generation, known as Generation Z. Bachmann said individuals in that age bracket tend to not look as much at name brands and what’s on the label. That leads to a shift in focus to perhaps supporting local entrepreneurs, taking advantage of mixed-use office spaces, and bringing in cohorts of local artists and vendors.

Nobody knows exactly what the future holds. Both the mall’s operators and township officials use the tools available right now to stay viable in a changing world.

“We just need to be flexible,” Thompson said. “Different generations want different things. Millennials want something different from Generation Z, and as they age, they look for different products, and different products have different buying power. I don’t think it is for us to determine. We need to keep an open line of communication.”

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