When shoppers stormed Long Island malls on Black Friday, the local shopping center that easily saw the smallest crowds was Sun-Vet Mall in Holbrook, where the retail sector’s troubles are most visible.
Sun-Vet’s two anchors, Toys ‘R Us and Pathmark, remain vacant since the two companies went out of business in recent years, leaving bare more than half of the mall’s about 200,000 square feet of retail space. At least half of the smaller storefronts in the mall are also shuttered. And this week, another Sun-Vet mainstay, A.C. Moore Arts & Crafts, announced that it is also shuttering all of its locations nationwide.
“This place at one time was hopping,” a shopper named Kelly said on Yelp. “Now I just feel sad walking around there. So empty.”
By comparison, Long Island’s neighborhood and community shopping centers had a vacancy rate of 8.2 percent in the third quarter, up from 7.3 percent for the same time period in 2018, according to Moody’s Analytics REIS, a Manhattan-based real estate information company. That’s compared to a vacancy rate of 10.1 percent for the U.S., which has not changed much over the last two years.
Across the county line in Westbury, The Mall at The Source similarly fell on hard times when anchors Fortunoff, Steve and Barry’s, and Circuit City closed up shop a decade ago. But there are signs of life, as Chinese mall developers announced two years ago that it bought The Source and is turning it into Lesso Home, an interior design hub, although the planned reopening has been pushed back.
Built in 1973 and named for its location at the intersection of Sunrise Highway and Veterans Memorial Highway, Sun-Vet these days typically has just a few shoppers milling about. Among those still calling the one-floor mall home is Mandee, Kin’s Costume Jewelry & Bridal, The Karat Stop, Close-Outs & Liquidations II, Lucille Roberts, Aegean Pizza & Restaurant, a liquor shop, an antique store, and a dentist. The mall directory continues to list former tenants such as Blockbuster Video, Sears Portrait Studio, and Payless Shoe Source. Some of the many shuttered shops with gates drawn are Pancake Cottage, Sterling Optical, and Computer Mart.
Sun-Vet’s contraction comes as brick-and-mortar retailers nationwide continue to struggle against the rise of online shopping. Some shopping centers are banking that creating an experiential retail environment will draw more foot traffic. For instance, the American Dream mall that opened last month in New Jersey has a roller coaster and ice rink, with an indoor ski slope scheduled to open in December. SeaQuest similarly proposed, then withdrew an application for, an aquarium at Westfield Sunrise Mall in Massapequa this spring.
The dismal state of Sun-Vet spawned a mock self-depreciating Twitter account that begs for shoppers and boasts in its bio that it was “Voted Best Mall on Long Island in 1987!” The feed has amassed more than 4,000 followers in two years.
Schuckman Realty, a Lake Grove-based commercial real estate firm, “is consulting on the redevelopment of the Sun-Vet Mall,” according to a 2017 profile in New York Real Estate Journal. In a Schuckman brochure advertising “prime real estate for lease” at Sun-Vet Mall, in which the realtor is described as the exclusive broker, it touts “redevelopment coming soon.”
What those plans entail remain to be seen. Schuckman and mall officials were not available for comment. But in a sign that the moribund mall’s operators are keeping hope alive for happier days ahead, Sun-Vet’s lonely halls are decked out for the holidays, with Santa Claus joining the remaining merchants waiting for visitors.