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Will Santa Be Naughty or Nice to Retailers? (Delete this one)

San Diego

Bells are ringing, but does this mean cash registers are jingling? This week, we asked some of San Diego's top retail brokers what they're hearing this holiday shopping season.

CDC Commercial president Don Zech tells us San Diego retail vacancies have continued to creep downward, but owners and retailers are still experiencing pain. The large chain tenants are becoming omni-channel marketers. But as he points out, you can't get your hair cut on the Internet. Savvy mom-and-pops are service-oriented. You can get a decent set of golf clubs at Costco, Dick's or Sports Authority, but a smart mom-and-pop may craft the clubs to your golf game, adapt them for your arthritis or special needs, give lessons, and embroider the golf bag for you, and the customer doesn't care that they spent an extra $10 or $20. The retailers are saying their store sales aren't as good this year as last, but their online business, if they have it, has seen a 20% to 100% increase.

According to Don, one of the big trends is academic institutions backfilling some of the most difficult, long-vacant retail spaces and rejuvenating markets. Earlier this year, Don and his son Nick repped John Paul the Great Catholic University (above) in the purchase of a 24k SF building, bringing young people to dine and shop downtown. (The building sat empty for a decade after the original occupant, a JCPenney department store, moved out, kicking off the area's decline.) The duo also repped the landlord in a 7,000 SF lease for a Taylion online school in San Marcos that will open the first of January.

Colliers International SVP Rick Puttkammer (center, with sons Blake, Chris, and Geoff, and wife Kim) is hearing pretty good things, but it's a tougher season—the shortest shopping season since 2002 with six fewer days. "Everybody's kind of scrambling to pack it all in." Nearly 50% of the shopping will get done from now till Christmas, with Saturday likely to be the second-busiest day behind Black Friday. On the capital markets side, San Diego is one of the top six or seven metro areas in the country, and anything available in the county is seeing multiple offers and sometimes overbid. On the leasing side, with limited supply in the top properties, retailers are picking shopping centers--asking if any leases are expiring soon and committing in advance to take any available space.

On a more upbeat note, Cassidy Turley VP Chad Iafrate (with wife Chanda and their seven-month-old son Parker) has been looking at the sales reports on some existing retailers, and so far the numbers are positive. He handles leasing at Lake Elsinore Outlets, where Puma has exceeded its sales projections since opening six weeks ago, including 40-minute checkout lines on opening day. Most of the national tenant retail categories are poised for expansion in 2014, triggering momentum. However, "it's a bifurcated market," he says. The "nice, shiny stuff"—Class-A trophy properties in the higher density, more affluent trade areas—are back to pre-recession vacancies and rents are starting to increase. The secondary and tertiary shopping centers and submarkets are slower to come back. What's on his wish list? For Parker to have a great first Christmas.

According to Flocke & Avoyer president Steve Avoyer, Santa's toting a mixed bag. The shopping center business definitely has improved, and there are a lot more retailers doing better in 2013 than in 2012, but it's not universal. Apple might be at the top of many landlords' wish lists, he notes, but even it has some stores that perform better than others (although its "bad" stores might be better than most everyone else's good stores). Expansion has slowed for many of the larger retailers, and mom-and-pops still haven't recovered, but fast-food and value-oriented retailers such as Ross and Marshall's are doing great. Most retailers are looking for steady growth over the next 12 to 24 months. Nobody can really predict how this season will turn out, he says; in past seasons, retailers have said it would be a grim Christmas, but the final 48 hours turned out to be record-breakers. "There's basically a week left, and in those seven days, the world can change."