KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Country Club Plaza has been called Kansas City's crown jewel, but a growing number of store vacancies are not helping the iconic shopping area's image.
"I'm very disappointed and really unhappy with the direction the Plaza is taking," said shopper Jane Keithees.
"We've really seen it change over the last year or so, and it's just sad to see it like it is," said shopper Joyce Kunard.
"Tenants may close for any number of reasons, but great new retailers and restaurants will come to take their place. With differing lease terms and other business considerations, this type of change takes time."
A Plaza spokesperson declined an interview request and referred to this statement when asked to comment on reasons for recent store vacancies.
KSHB 41 then sought out experts in economics and real estate for answers on what's behind the growing number of vacancies, and they all point to the pandemic.
"Retail has been undergoing a transformation for a while now in large part due to the surge in online sales, which the pandemic only accelerated," said Frank Lenk, chief economist with the Mid-America Regional Council.
And in the past 20 to 22 months, there has been a dip in occupy levels by 4 to 5 percentage points, according to Stephanie Cegielski with ICSC, an organization that represents shopping centers nationwide.
Those numbers paired with a "sour" attitude may have combined to drive stores away.
"I believe the Plaza's stance was: you're a tenant, you owe rent, you need to pay rent. So with that, it probably left a sour taste in a lot of these tenants' mouths, and when it came time for their lease to expire, they looked elsewhere," explained Daniel Brocato with Block & Company, Inc., Realtors.
Despite vacancies caused by recent store departures, Plaza officials said new stores have arrived such as Jill Marie Boutique, LensCrafters and Razzleberry. Upcoming 2022 openings include Club Pilates, Ice Cream Bae and Lovesac. Nordstrom is planned to open in 2023.
With all that said, Brocato believes the Plaza's future is bright.
"With new tenants, new anchor tenants coming in on the Plaza, it will help fill up some of those smaller tenant spaces," he said.