These are confusing times for retail in New York City, with major store openings and an uptick in leasing alternating with high-profile bankruptcies and reports of declining rents.
As e-commerce upends the industry and a wave of new players enters the retail space, insiders are more interested than ever in learning about what their competition is up to, what works, and what doesn’t. In response, the International Council of Shopping Centers’ annual New York expo is more than doubling its programming.
“Retail is exciting,” said David Rabinowitz, a real estate lawyer with Goulston & Storrs and chair of the New York Deal Making Program Planning Committee, a group of industry volunteers that advises ICSC on planning the event. “A few years ago people called it an apocalypse. I think now people realize it’s not the apocalypse — it’s just evolving into something different.”
So is the New York Deal Making event. Last year it featured 26 workshops and panels with about 80 speakers over three days, but this year’s has 62 sessions and over 170 speakers in the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center’s 260,000-square-foot main exhibition hall, according to ICSC.
A day of professional development workshops Tuesday will be followed by two days of programming at four thematic “destinations” in addition to the Main Stage — Retail in Focus, Tech Connect, Health & Wellness, and Food & Fun.
Many of the panels and talks will focus on how new technology — including location data, smart buildings and 5G — will affect the retail industry. The keynote panel, led by ICSC president and CEO Tom McGee, will examine innovations in experiential retail — an increasingly important way to get customers off the internet and back into brick-and-mortar stores.
“Retailer is becoming a very broad term, because it’s not just people that sell apparel — it’s really all sorts of consumer-facing businesses,” Rabinowitz said. “The question is how retailers are going to be relevant in this day and age, and that’s why the customer experience is so important. You have to bring customers to your store, keep them in the store, and make them come back. ”
Beyond the scheduled programming, the remainder of the exhibition hall will be occupied by nearly 500 booths featuring a variety of landlords, brokers and retailers, providing ample opportunity for deal-making.
“I think a big topic for attendees is to take a deeper dive into the marketplace, see what others are doing and what is working best,” said Michael Shkreli, a director at Winick Realty Group, Manhattan’s fifth busiest retail brokerage in The Real Deal‘s latest ranking, with 118 deals totaling 368,942 square feet between Oct. 1, 2018, and Sept. 30, 2019.
“This is a trend that has been growing over the last few years as providing hard data to tenants and landlords has become a key part of the deal-making process,” he continued.
While some of the country’s biggest mall operators — including Simon, Brookfield, Macerich and Unibail-Rodamco — will still have their own extra-large booths on the Javits Center’s ancillary floors, Rabinowitz says the organizers chose to consolidate all programming on the main floor so as not to take attendees away from the action.
ICSC first moved exhibition booths for its New York event from Javits’ lower level to the main floor in 2017, but much programming continued to take place on the lower level until this year.
On the first day of the event, however, attendees will get to explore some of the region’s newest retail destinations — Hudson Yards, Empire Outlets on Staten Island and the American Dream mall in New Jersey. It is the first time in many years that ICSC has organized such tours for its New York event.
At press time, the number of registered attendees for this year’s event had surpassed 8,500, though organizers are expecting around 10,000, in line with past years. According to ICSC’s attendee directory, registered participants include more than 3,300 representatives of retail property owners and developers; nearly 2,600 attendees from the real estate services industry, including brokerages; and nearly 1,000 affiliated with retailers and tenants.
New York Deal Making remains ICSC’s second-largest annual event after RECon in Las Vegas, which generally attracts about three times as many people. And while Las Vegas is widely recognized as ICSC’s national conference, NYDM has historically been more regional.
Of the 8,500 New York Deal Making attendees registered as of Friday, more than 2,100 hail from New York and another 700 from New Jersey. Californians make up the third largest contingent with 580 attendees, followed by Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Florida and Texas, with at least 400 registered from each state.
“We’re also trying to make New York into something a bit different from the Vegas show, because it’s New York,” Rabinowitz said. “Although we do get people from all over the country, we’re trying to encourage more international property owners and retailers to come to the New York show — especially retailers from Europe and the U.K., because New York is an easy place for them to get to.”
ICSC’s registrant list shows 114 attendees from Canada, 18 from the U.K. and 14 from elsewhere in Europe. Other attendees will be coming from as far afield as Chile, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. Relevant programming for international participants will include sessions on “International Brands Coming to the U.S.” and “How to Successfully Expand in a Foreign Market.”
Whether participants are crossing the street, the country or the ocean to get to Javits this year, change will likely be the only constant at the show.
“I do think we will see a lot of new brands this year, as we have seen a lot of new players enter the retail market,” Winick’s Shkreli said. “For example, you see a lot of e-commerce brands beginning to look for their first brick-and-mortar locations. New York is still the epicenter of retail.”