Why The Bronx Is The New Front Line of The City’s Shopping Center War

The following is syndicated from our friends at The Blinker and was written by Geoffrey Mullings.

A rendition of what the completed Mall at Bay Plaza will look like from the Henry Hutchinson River Parkway in The Bronx, New York City

The master plan is to turn The Bronx’s Bay Plaza into a Westchester shopper magnet.

Next month Bronx residents will have somewhere closer than Midtown to look for a diversified shopping experience and new jobs. The Mall at Bay Plaza, opening August 14th, will be the first enclosed fashion mall to open in the City in 40 years according to the developer. The new jobs and stores making an appearance in the City’s largest shopping center are well deserved for an area mostly under-served by some of the City’s best chain retailers.

But make no mistake: while Bronx residents will benefit from the expansion of Bay Plaza into a serious shopping center contender, this $270 million investment is a calculated move to win a battle with Westchester competitors and take advantage of a safer and slowly prospering borough.

The Bronx seems to be New York City’s new frontier in the competition for Westchester’s high-income spending. Suburban residents typically travel into city centers for shopping, and for a while Midtown has been the City’s main magnet for suburban shoppers. But two malls in Westchester, Cross County and Ridge Hill, have been bringing the convenience of varying retailers to at least the western corridor served by I-87. Now Bay Plaza, led by Macy’s and a handful of higher-end retailers, hopes to take advantage of the neglected eastern corridor where I-95 runs down from Mamaroneck. The hope is that eastern Westchester shoppers will join a growing number of wealthier Bronx shoppers in making Bay Plaza the City’s most northern suburban style shopping magnet.

Retail map of competitor shopping centers and central business districts for the Mall at Bay Plaza, in The Bronx, New York City

The opportunity was cemented when Macy’s agreed to be an anchor store alongside already existing JCPenny. This Macy’s location is the second to open in The Bronx, the last one opening in 1941. “For the last few years, we haven’t been opening many new stores because there aren’t many shopping centers being built,” said Jim Sluzewski, senior vice president of communications for Macy’s according to the WSJ. Macy’s hasn’t opened a new NYC location since 1995.

CUNY Map of Median Income in New York City in 2010

But at least Macy’s has been in The Bronx. A real litmus test for what’s happening here is the opening of the first Bronx Kay Jewelers. Every other Kay Jeweler location, aside from the one in Queens, has been opened in a neighborhood with a median income in 2010 of between $70,000  and $140,000. The neighborhood surrounding Bay Plaza had a median income between $50,000 and $60,000 in 2010, much higher than the borough’s rising median income of $32,000 that same year. For some retailers, including H&M, Victoria’s Secret, and Aeropostale, next month will also be their first time opening a location in The Bronx.

Map Credit: Google

“As the Bronx has settled into a borough where you’re seeing an increasing middle class and disposable income the need for retail is there,” said Benjamin Fox, an executive vice president for retail leasing at Massey Knakal Realty Services, a brokerage according to theWSJ. Bay Plaza is located near a particularly wealthier part of The Bronx, and the developers estimate that the primary trade area for the mall will have a median income of $58,000.

Trade Area Map for the Mall At Bay Plaza, in The Bronx, New York City

The additional 1,700 jobs, most of which will probably be low-skill retail, are likely to go to Bronx residents. That’s welcomed ammo for battling down an unemployment rate above 12% according to the latest available data.

Related: Putting The North Bronx “Crime Surge” Into Context

Is the new mall at all a reflection of gentrification in the borough? It might be too early to tell. While median and per capita income have both risen in The Bronx since 2000, per capita income has declined from its 2008 high, suggesting that those moving into the borough for now possess lower incomes than the average. That trend may not last too long considering that per capita income rose between 2010 and 2011, and as The Bronx becomes home to more economic opportunities it’s bound to attract more diverse permanent residents.

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Ed García Conde

Ed García Conde is a life-long Bronxite who spends his time documenting the people, places, and things that make the borough a special place in the hopes of dispelling the negative stereotypes associated with The Bronx. His writings are often cited by mainstream media and is often consulted for his expertise on the borough's rich history.