If shopping malls as we’ve come to know them are a dying breed, maybe startups can come to the rescue.
That’s the premise behind a new deal struck by coworking camp 1776, which will be adding its first New Jersey location through a partnership with Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), owner of South Jersey’s Cherry Hill Mall.
Inside an 11,000-square-foot space PREIT and 1776 will establish an incubator that will focus on retail and ecommerce startups. The space will be operated by 1776 under a similar model to its locations at Montco’s Ambler Yards and the Pennovation Center, and will provide companies with a mix of offices and conference rooms as well as public-facing display space to sell to the general public.
Per 1776 CEO Jenn Maher, the lesson so far with other licensed or “management model” spaces has been that, the earlier in the development the company comes into the mix, the better.
“With PREIT we’re coming in and consulting with them from construction to actually operate and manage,” Maher told Technical.ly.
For Maher’s company, which recently launched an accelerator program in D.C. for startups in regulated industries, part of what made the project make sense was the number of retail and ecommerce-focused companies
“We had been in conversations with PREIT for a while and this was a particular asset they have where we could do something really innovative for our product companies, to give them access to a showroom space that they wouldn’t otherwise get,” Maher said.
Slated to open in November 2018, the incubator plans to offer companies with vertical-specific programming and will leverage experts from Center City-based PREIT, which owns and operates some 22 million square feet of retail space in 10 U.S. metros.
“Our partnership with 1776 furthers the reimagination of the mall experience and expands our customer base while simultaneously offering great retail, dining experiences and services as an amenity to the 1776 member population,” PREIT CEO Joseph Coradino said in a statement. “We are committed to bringing a unique mix of tenants to our portfolio to cement our place as a change agent delivering a new and diversified tenant mix creating a hub of activity positioned for future growth.”
For PREIT, the move tells of a strategy that looks to adjust the concept of the mall to better align with what people want. Coradino said at an industry conference last year that “a healthy number of malls need to have adaptive reuses and not be malls.” For 1776, there’s potential in helping its consumer-facing companies have access to, well, consumers.
“I think it’s a fantastic,” said Simply Good Jars CEO Jared Cannon, whose healthy-meal-in-a-jar startup is based out of the company’s University City spot. “You see news of restaurants using their space for coworking and I think in the market you’re going to see more use of real estate to try and do innovative things.”
(Related: In Center City, Walnut Street is also trying to keep up with shifting consumer trends.)
Though nothing has been finalized, Cannon said there have been early conversations about getting the company involved with 1776’s Cherry Hill location.
“This sounds like a cool opportunity for companies like us that are small but growing, to incubate there and have our product customer-facing in the mall,” Cannon said. “Your average food court tends to be pizza, fast food and Chinese food. But nothing really leveraging localized food built to be nutritious yet sustainable.”
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