ROXBURY, NJ – The upcoming closure of the Dressbarn store in Roxbury Mall in Succasunna will result in another vacancy in a shopping center already riddled with quite a few. But an executive with the company that owns the mall insists the place is in good shape.

Al Tafro, chief operating officer of Roxbury Mall owner Fidelity Land Development, acknowledged the retail world is a challenging one, and concedes the mall - like many brick-and-mortar retail outposts - is “in transition” largely due to the Internet and e-commerce. Nevertheless, Tafro said he is confident Roxbury Mall will remain viable.

“While there are a few vacancies at this time, Roxbury Mall has had historically very high occupancy rates,” Tafro said. He noted the mall’s square footage is currently about 91 percent occupied.

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“As compared to things generally in New Jersey and nationally, even with those few vacancies it has a higher occupancy rate and it still has many of the strongest and best national and regional tenants including Home Depot, Shoprite and Kohls," he said. "We still have a very strong tenant lineup.”

Better Than It Appears

Given the huge footprints of those major stores, the vacancies in smaller storefronts might make the situation look unrealistically dire, noted Tafro.

The shutdown of the Dressbarn won’t help that perception; it will add to the empty storefronts in the mall - numbering at least a half-dozen - including spaces once occupied by AAA, Legends Ale House, Jennifer Furniture, Vermont Pancake House, Vanity Costume Jewelry, Olé Tex Mex Grill and others.

The Dressbarn closure was announced earlier this week by the chain’s owner, Mahwah-based Ascena Retail Group. It said it is closing all 650 Dressbarn stores, but did not say when the Roxbury store’s operations will end.

“Plans for closing individual Dressbarn locations, including information about store closing sales, will be shared during the wind down process,” Ascena said in a statement. 

The company said its employees “will be notified when decisions are made about specific store closures and provided with transition support.”

Vacancy Signs in Windows

Roxbury Mall isn’t the only shopping hub in the township losing tenants. The former Pathmark Shopping Center in Landing, last anchored by the short-lived Fresh Emporium food store, is largely vacant.

Despite what might appear to be an abundance of unused retail space in the township, developers of the Shops at Ledgewood Commons are pressing forward with building more at the site of the former Ledgewood Mall.

Tafro was unwilling to discuss the wisdom of creating more retail at Ledgewood Commons. A request for comment was not immediately answered by the public relations firm representing the Shops at Ledgewood Commons developers.

“Obviously, landowners are free to pursue what they think is appropriate,” he said. “Most retail openings or developments are generated by the demographics of an area in terms of population and income. Different retailers look for different things, but at some point it’s a numbers game for the retailers.”

He said a goal of Fidelity is to have Roxbury Mall serve as a type of “community center” with an attractive mix that includes businesses with products or services not readily available online.

'It's Not Roxbury'

“Some of it is just adapting,” he said. “Shopping centers everywhere are trying to adopt other uses compatible with a shopping center venue. Roxbury Mall is like a town center. We are seeing it move toward more services – including restaurants. It is a more difficult environment ... We still have a really strong lineup of many of the national-type tenants and food franchises.”

Tafro said Fidelity is "working on number of other opportunities" for the vacant spaces in the mall along Commerce Boulevard. "We hope to have some new tenants in place soon," he said. "We're in transition. We're working hard to keep the property attractive and current."

And while he surmised the recession a decade ago might have impacted Roxbury more than other more affluent areas, Tafro said the Roxbury area remains a viable place to do business.

"It's not Roxbury," he said. "It’s the reality for Morris County, New Jersey, the world. The internet and e-commerce has obviously affected bricks and mortars to some extent ... I’m not sounding the alarm on the town. It’s a great town.”

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