2021's Top 10 Retail Experiences: No. 1 Easton Town Center

Chain Store Age picks physical retail's most engaging centers
Al Urbanski

More than 30 million people visit it each year and spend more than a billion dollars there. It offers 50-plus food and beverage options. Stroll through the massive development in Columbus and one out of every seven people you pass traveled more than 100 miles to be there. And if that’s not enough to demonstrate that Easton Town Center continued to provide America’s best retail center experience during a pandemic-plagued year, consider that it signed leases with 10 new tenants and opened a 16-acre, $500 million New District in early 2021.

Yaromir Steiner, the CEO of Steiner + Associates, which manages Easton (No. 1 on Chain's Store Age's annual Top 10 Retail Center Experiences list ) said that March and April sales at the center ran 5% to 8% higher than they were in 2019. And that was still a time when its AMC 30 cinema, one of the most successful in the nation, remained closed.

“The New District has performed way beyond my expectations,” said Steiner of the art-bedecked urban precinct which houses an RH Gallery Store, an Arhaus, Class-A office buildings, a Pins bowling alley, and food and beverage options such as the Forbidden Root Brew Pub.

“It’s rare when an extension of a project becomes more powerful than the rest of the development,” he said.  “It’s a game-changer.”

Steiner, who 22 years ago helped design the project developed by L Brands founder Lex Wexner and The Georgetown Company, feels that the pandemic proved as a curative for the continued health of Easton Town Center. (Easton was No. 1 in 2019.)

“For the first time, we had an 8% vacancy rate. It’s usually only 2%,” he said.  “It allowed us to move some tenants around and make some bigger decisions.”

The pandemic shined a spotlight on the true nature of Easton, holds Georgetown CEO Adam Flatto.

“We’re not a shopping destination, we’re a social destination,” he said. “That allowed us to continue to be relevant during the pandemic and, afterwards, to drive traffic quickly back to what it was before the pandemic.”

Flatto maintains that it was Wexner--the operator of The Limited and Victoria’s Secret who helped fill concourses at malls--who two decades ago conjured the vision that is now dominating the thinking of retailers and center builders.  Wexner owned the huge parcel of land on which Easton resides and had thought about building a distribution center on it before he sensed a shift in the winds of retail.

“At an ICSC convention back in the Nineties, Les put his money where his mouth was and stuck his neck out,” said Flatto. “He gave a speech in which he said that the future of department stores was bleak and that a change needed to be made.  Everyone thought he was crazy.”

Wexner said developers had to give consumers reasons to come to their centers that went beyond shopping, and he broke ground at Easton to show them what. Flatto states that Easton has never abandoned that mission.

“We still have hundreds of acres of land there,” he said. “Every field and every parking lot is a site waiting to be developed.”

No. 2 American Dream
No. 3 Galleria Dallas
No. 4 Tuscan Village
No. 5 National Harbor
No. 6 La Centerra At Cinco Ranch

Stay tuned for daily profiles of the next four centers.
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