Letter: Brick-and-mortar stores aren’t on their way out

GLOOM-AND-DOOM comments about dying malls and store closings are abundant these days. According to many pundits, in a short time, all that will be left of the retail industry is online shopping.

I beg to differ. Our organization, the Retail Alliance, has been around for more than a century — since 1903. We have seen retail rise and fall many, many times, due to economic downshifts and boom times: world wars; the Great Depression; the robust surges of the 1950s and ’60s, as well as the 1990s; and, more recently, the Great Recession of 2008.

Nowadays, the closings of stores and malls are threatening the perception of brick-and-mortar retail success. According to The Washington Post, these companies have a tangle of problems, including waning foot traffic to shopping malls and customers who are choosing to spend their money on experiences instead of goods. These are cultural shifts that long-standing retailers have little ability to control.

However, local, niche retailing is emerging as a strong contender in the competition for consumers’ disposable income. Research by Deloitte finds that niche players are siphoning $200 billion in spending from big box stores each year.

In Hampton Roads, busy foot traffic drives the shopping and dining successes of Ghent and downtown Norfolk, as well as Town Center and Hilltop in Virginia Beach, Olde Towne Portsmouth, Hilton Village in Newport News and others. Hampton Roads’ urban communities are once again emerging as vibrant retail and restaurant magnets that attract shoppers and diners of all ages.

Although Military Circle has had its challenges, malls throughout South Hampton Roads — including Lynnhaven, Greenbrier, the new Norfolk Premium Outlets and MacArthur Center — are experiencing heavy foot traffic. These malls are committed to local retail stores as well as chains. They have a healthy mix of local and national merchants. For instance, 17 of the retail brands in MacArthur Center are local shops.

Stores with a physical presence account for 95 percent of all retail sales. A prosperous local retail environment and local economy can be a rising tide that helps float many boats, including real estate development, employment, local tax bases and charities. So let’s shop, eat and buy local.

Raymond J. Mattes III, President and CEO of Retail Alliance

This letter can also be seen on Pilot Online.