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The Walden Galleria Turns 25

(WBEN) Twenty five years ago today a parade of dignitaries and politicians crammed into the Walden Galleria to celebrate the opening day at what today remains the region's largest mall. 

Over 1,000 credit card applications were filed at J.C Penny in a single day, and some women who were quoted on the scene say they even took the day off work just to do some first day shopping.

  On The WBEN Liveline
Burt Flickinger III,Strategic Resource Group Craig Conroy, Conroy Research Group
Today, what is still the region's largest shopping mall celebrates its 25th birthday with a a gift basket raffle, a range of restaurant specials and a toast this evening.  And industry experts say malls are now more of a date night destination:  for fun, for food-- rather than the shopping.

"The Walden Galleria has changed significantly over time. The one constant is continued success," says retail analyst Burt Flickinger III with the Strategic Resource Group in New York City.

" Having the entertainment, having the specialty retailers, is really the key for evolutionary success as opposed to the unplanned obsolescence we are seeing at more conventional malls, particularly the ones anchored by JC Penney or Sears or a Bon Ton,"  

   - Retail Analyst Burt Flickinger III, Strategic Resource Group.

  Can Malls Thrive When Online Shopping Doesn't Require Finding That Parking Spot?

With more and more people turning toward online shopping, are malls still relevant?

"I think there is a big change in the way people shop., That doesn't meant that brick and mortar retailers are dead,"  says Dan  Ackerman, an editor at CNET, familiar with the Walden Galleria from his days as a student at the University at Buffalo.

" I think it means that a lot of these stores, a lot of these big collections of stores are going to have to work more efficiently, working with (online ventures) instead of competing with them," Ackerman says

Ackerman says service- and the in-person needs of a higher tech, younger shopper who would otherwise buy online-- will keep stores like Apple or Best Buy, in malls like the Galleria, strong

"I think especially stores like Best Buy will always have heavy foot traffic because even if you aren't thinking of buying something from Best Buy, you will go there to see the product in person.  That's one thing the online experience can't do is let you pick up the item, touch it, look around the back and see what kind of plugs it takes. That's very important. The question is how do you translate that into an in-person  sale."
Where do you do the majority of you non-grocery shopping?
Big box stores
( 53% )
( 19% )
( 27% )

The mall of 1989 was approx.1.2 million square feet, with 220 stores, 80 of which were new to the Buffalo area. Today's Galleria is approx. 1 .6 million square feet and has over 250 stores - including chains like Best Buy which barely had a national presence in 1989, and the Apple Store, which didn't even exist then.

Anchors Away?:  In the beginning, AM&As was an anchor tenant, years before it was sold to Bon Ton and shuttered in 2005. But a JC Penney, Sears and Macy's store remain. 

In recent years the mall has added a growing  restaurant wing, a refurbished move theater and entertainment options that include an indoor go-cart  racing track.

"It's success is because it is the largest. It has the retailers and the restaurants and the entertainment properties, the highest sales per square feet. But .. size is also a challenge because it's popularity has outpace the number of parking spaces," Flickinger says.

Worries about parking there are nothing new however. When the mall was first  built there were concerns on traffic and drainage. In the interim it has however become  a catalyst for development in Cheektowaga

"I think when the Galleria first opened  a lot of realtors thought it was in the middle of nowhere.  There was a Sheraton hotel built next door and people thought that was the middle of nowhere. Then everything kind of grew up around it," says Howard Saperston of Saperston Commercial Real Estate. 

He says the mall enticed others- mostly Benderson Development Corp- to reclaim industrial parcels near the mall.   "They came down and were replaced by retail stores. So the Galleria grew up and morphed into the area's regional 'go-to' place as far as malls are concerned," Saperston says.

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