The top executive at The Sember Co. is “cautiously optimistic” about the state of retail despite dire warnings about a “retail apocalypse” brought about by online shopping that some contend threatens to cripple the sector.
Ron Wheeler, the St. Petersburg-based shopping center owner’s CEO, says upon returning from this year’s International Council of Shopping Center ReCon conference in Las Vegas that many retail landlords and tenants are successfully navigating the new shopping landscape.
“My main takeaway from the conference this year is that people are cautiously optimistic,” Wheeler says. “Everyone understands, I think, that we’re having a pretty good run right now.” We have relatively low interest rates, inflation remains in check, and unemployment is as low as it’s been in awhile.
“It all bodes well for a stable retail environment.”
Wheeler notes, too, that many retail property owners and tenants have adjusted to e-commerce and an Amazon-dominated retail landscape.
“It’s the reason we as a company decided to focus years ago on grocery-anchored shopping centers with tenants that leaned toward wellness or fitness,” he says. “As a result, our rents are rising at a decent pace. There’s not at all the overbuilding or the rampant speculation that was the case in 2005, 2006 and 2007.”
He adds that Sembler currently has a pipeline for new development through 2021.
But a decade or more from now, Wheeler acknowledges vast societal changes could have a severe impact on retail space and development.
“A child starting elementary school now may not ever even drive a car,” Wheeler says. “Think about that — it’s amazing.”