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Survey: Retail rebound in five-state portfolio


North Plainfield, N.J. A surge in late holiday season sales and the growth of retailer expansion plans in 2010 offers promising signs of a retail industry rebound, according to a post-holiday tenant survey by Levin Management Corp.

The survey polled store managers from 1,000 Levin property management tenants in New York; New Jersey; Pennsylvania; Virginia; and North Carolina.

About 90% of Levin Management's 12.5 million-sq.-ft. portfolio consists of open-air retail centers, with results of the survey therefore more indicative of that genre rather than enclosed malls.

When asked how holiday 2009 sales compared with 2008, about 55.2% of store managers said sales were either the same or better, while 44.8% said they were down. Actual sales increases were reported by 22% of respondents, most citing rises of 20% or less. Most of those posting drops pegged them in the 0% to 30% range.

"Those results are obviously mixed," said Matthew Harding, president and COO of Levin Management. "But the fact that 33% said their sales held steady and 22% reported increases is an indication that the consumer retail market is beginning to stabilize. Keep in mind that the projections for the holiday season were not very good."

Given a range of dates to track holiday sales, responses from store managers indicate a trend of an early "Black Friday" rush, followed by a mid-December lull and another rush during the week before Christmas despite a major snowstorm along the East Coast, the report said. All of those polled said that between 10% and more than 50% of all holiday sales occurred in just the four-day period of December 21-24, with more than one-third crediting those four days with 21% to 30% of total sales.

For key retail categories, 57.8% of food tenants (both grocery and restaurant sub-categories) reported higher sales during the holidays, 15.7% reported same as a year ago, and 26.3% reported lower sales. In the apparel category, 56.5% reported higher sales, 34.7% reported same, and just 8.6% reported lower sales.

When asked if companies were adding more store locations in 2010, about 37% of respondents said yes.

"The fact that more than one-third indicated they will add stores is a very positive sign," Harding said. "Even in the best of times, not all retailers are seeking to expand. The response to this particular question, in this current economy, is therefore encouraging.”

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