Chicago Michigan Avenue storefronts empty as city, real estate brokers reinvent the retail industry

CHICAGO (WLS) – Vacancy rates rose sharply in desirable downtown Chicago and surrounding neighborhoods before the pandemic, but climbed much faster once COVID-19 hit. It is now over 26% in the Chicago Loop and up in the Michigan Avenue Corridor.

“Many stores are gone,” said downtown shopper SanJay Patmaik.

From downtown to the Loop, the Gold Coast and River North, the I-Team has found dozens and dozens of signs for rent and available space.

“A lot of stores are closed, there are empty places,” Patmaik said.

This includes stores like the 60,000 square foot Uniqlo store at Streeterville and Macy’s at Water Tower Place.

The I-Team spoke to shoppers outside the large now empty retail spaces of an old Gap and Forever 21.

“I think maybe another store would see the potential of the business and one store would take it over,” said Fredrick LaMarr.

And despite many potential buyers, a real estate research group said the Mag Mile has a vacancy rate of over 19%, down from around 11% in 2019.

“We have to be innovative,” said Jack Lavin, president and CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

Lavin said the pandemic challenge on Michigan Avenue was filling large empty retail spaces, some of which were tailor-made for stores now left behind.

“Michigan Avenue is the economic lifeblood of the city of Chicago. Almost 20% of jobs are found in jobs in the city of Chicago’s mag mile neighborhood,” Lavin said. “$ 180 million in tax revenue is generated by this neighborhood, it’s the largest neighborhood in the city of Chicago.”

There are similar vacancy trends in surrounding downtown areas. The Loop now has a vacancy rate of 26%, also up from a historic low of less than 10% in 2015.

“There is a myriad of opportunities here, you probably know the food and drink,” said real estate broker Todd Siegel.

He faces the hurdles of leasing many of these empty spaces to homeowners in need. Filling the storefronts on the ground floor of several new high-rise buildings that were built during the pandemic presents an additional challenge.

“It’s a challenge and not only are we looking for organizations and users to take that space, but we are questioning the business plans of these retailers to make sure that what we bring into this ecosystem is something that doesn’t just work. be sustainable today, but grows as consumption habits and patterns change, ”said Siegel.

Siegel and Lavin said they wanted to attract more “experience” -type concepts, such as the world’s largest Starbucks stand-by roaster on Michigan Avenue. Ideas include integrating food, bars or product demonstrations into retail, giving customers a reason to come to the store rather than shop online.

“To look at what the new environment is, come up with new ideas and bring new kinds of retail here, whether it’s experiential retail, entertainment or family entertainment, different kinds of restaurants.” , Lavin said.

Chicago city officials said they also have a plan. They call it the Central City Recovery Roadmap to revitalize the greater downtown area.

Officials with the city’s business and consumer protection department said an accelerated restaurant licensing program would help fill some empty spaces.

“There is no doubt that we are at a time when the consumer is seeing a lot of empty storefronts,” said Siegel. “But the reality is behind the scenes, retailers are trying to reimagine what their storefront looks like.”

Changing the look of a storefront could also include dividing large spaces into smaller retail stores. The chamber said many retailers want a smaller space on Michigan Avenue, which can also be used to promote more business and online sales.

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Kristan F. Talley