“You’re about to walk into the most incredible luxury retail environment there is,” Don Ghermezian, chief executive of the American Dream mega-mall in New Jersey, says in a video of the ribbon-cutting ceremony for The Avenue, the mall’s new luxury wing.
Not exactly. Triple Five is promising The Avenue will eventually become that. The reality at the moment is the wing is just five stores, and one restaurant.
While American Dream has created a visually stunning “Avenue” that they potentially could fill with exciting stores, for now shoppers only have five choices.
Apart from the anchor of the wing, the 110,000-square-foot Saks Fifth Avenue, the majority of The Avenue is construction barricades disguised with beautiful murals to hide the empty spaces behind them.
Saks, Hermes, Johnny Was, Dolce
The Avenue opened September 17 with four stores in addition to Saks: Hermes, Dolce & Gabbana, Johnny Was, and Mulberry, and a fine-dining restaurant, Carpaccio.
The owners of American Dream decided not to wait for their luxury wing to reach a critical mass of stores before holding the grand opening. After all, shoppers, and Saks, have already been waiting a long time for the wing to open.
After the first portion of American Dream, the Nickelodeon amusement park, opened in October, 2019, the mall’s owners announced the luxury wing, and other retail stores, would open in March, 2020. The pandemic caused that to be pushed back to March, 2021, and again to September, 2021.
“Street of dreams”
As they have with other parts of the mall, the owners, Triple Five Group, are using a strategy that seems to be working for them, although slowly. If you open it, the tenants will come, seems to be their philosophy.
“Avenue really is a street of dreams that will be dreamier as we continue to add new names,” Ken Downing, creative director of Triple Five, told WWD during an advance tour of the wing.
The rest, and the best, is yet to come has been Triple Five’s mantra since American Dream’s first grand opening in the fall of 2019.
When they opened the Nickelodeon amusement park, ice rink, and the Big Snow indoor ski slope in late 2019, Triple Five was under pressure to answer skeptics who doubted whether the mall would ever open.
Years of delays at American Dream
The project was already years behind schedule. Triple Five, when it took over the site in 2011, after two previous developers crashed and burned, said the first phase, with 300 stores and 50 restaurants, would open in late 2013. That estimate was replaced with projected opening dates in 2016, 2017, and finally 2019.
Since then Triple Five, which owns two other huge entertainment and retail complexes, Mall of America in Minnesota, and West Edmonton Mall in Canada, has run into difficulty carrying the massive loans for the project as the pandemic slowed revenues at American Dream and its other mall properties, and has had to give lenders large stakes in its other mega-malls.
As recently as July, American Dream officials were saying they expected to have more than 20 stores ready for shoppers when the wing opened September 17. But when construction delays prevented most of those stores from being ready in time for the opening, the mall decided to stick with the September 17 date anyway.
“One could certainly find reasons not to open,” Downing told Allison Pries of NJ.com. “But our guests deserve to have this.”
“At some point you have to stop waiting,” Downing told WWD. Downing said he and American Dream CEO Don Ghermezian, who is a member of the family behind Triple Five, felt it was important to get The Avenue open this fall, even if much of the space would remain covered with barricades.
The barricades in front of the empty and under-construction storefronts, however, are stunning, covered with murals of fashion-related images in pinks and pastels. But shoppers have to walk past long stretches of the barricades to find the few stores that are open.
“Where are the stores?” an opening-day visitor asked while looking at a mall directory in the wing, which showed the Avenue without any stores identified.
American Dream hired decorator Jonathan Adler to create an environment at The Avenue similar to an upscale boutique hotel. He has created a visually stunning space with numerous seating areas and large sculptures decorated with faces that serve as the containers for topiary plantings.
The wing is a photographer’s and Instagram paradise. On opening day, parents with strollers and toddlers could be seen posing their children with some of the high-fashion mannequins on display as part of a grand-opening-related art and fashion exhibit.
Saks, and its parent company, Hudson Bay Company, bet big on American Dream and Triple Five in the early stages of the project, when Triple Five was having trouble getting high-profile retailers to take a chance on the still-under-construction mall. Hudson Bay, which like Triple Five, is based in Canada, pledged in 2014 to open flagship Saks and Lord & Taylor stores at American Dream that would anchor a luxury collection of hundreds of stores. Since then Lord & Taylor has gone bankrupt and closed its stores, as have a number of other retailers originally announced as Dream tenants.
A fresh start for Saks in New Jersey
Saks closed its two New Jersey stores – at The Shops at Riverside in Hackensack, NJ in 2014, and at The Mall at Short Hills in 2016 – in anticipation that the American Dream location would soon be open.
The new store gives Saks a fresh, modern presentation, and reflects Saks’ embrace of online shopping. Visitors to American Dream can virtually shop the latest collections at the New York City Saks flagship while at the New Jersey store. The store also offers online appointments for services, and same-day delivery of purchases.
Saks and the 8,000 square-foot Hermes store and the new retail location for boho-chic luxury brand Johnny Was are impressive tenants. The Hermes store, which was limiting the number of shoppers inside on opening day, had a line of half a dozen customers at midday. Other stores, including Tiffany, Saint Laurent, Jonathan Adler, Anne Fontaine, and Zadig & Voltaire, and a champagne bar, are expected to open over the next few months.
Currently, the barricades in the two-level wing are covering enough retail space for at least 50 large stores and perhaps twice as many if retailers opt for smaller spaces. American Dream needs those barricades to come down, and the spaces behind them to be filled with open stores, before The Avenue can be called an “incredible luxury retail environment.”
But for now, those barricades, and the fabulous murals on them, are the most incredible thing about The Avenue.