Just got back from another trip to Vegas to attend ICSC ( Shopping Center Leasing Conference ) and boy was this year different from years past. Attendance last year was at an all time high of almost 60,000 attendees. This year depending on who you talk to the count was anywhere from 18,000 to 26,000 plus or minus. That should tell you a bit about the effect the economy is having.
I saw a lot of very interesting things on this trip that definitely spoke volumes. First off the show. The Leasing Mall was as always the busiest with the retail-restaurant section packed with tight aisles around wherever free food or beverage samples. Aunt Annie’s and Jimmy Johns has very long lines waiting for a pretzel and piece of sub. Absent was Starbucks who for years was the busiest booth at the show and not just for free coffee but for “Dealmaking”. It was very spooky to walk thru the North Hall which was almost devoid of anyone and a big chunk of the developers and Shopping Centers where non-existent. The Central Hall had more activity but still had big swath of space empty. Lots of curtains were visible blocking off views of empty space that for years was sold out. Simon one of the founding members of ICSC and biggest exhibitors backed out of the show from what I heard was an inability to get better rates. They packed up and headed to Caesars and shuttled people back and forth.
The Shumacher Group had a major presence at ICSC as an affiliate member of The Retail Brokers Members. With members from 45 cities representing the booth was always with meetings and dealmaking happening. Several national restaurant chains made presentations in the booth in open forums. For most the talk was about poor attendance but many exhibitors in the retail restaurant had positive feedback including Popeye’s VP Of Development, Greg Vojnovic ( seen with yours truly in the attached picture taken this week in his booth ) who thought this years ICSC was very successful for his company. They felt that the real players were there and the ones that stopped by the booth were serious and had something to offer. The sad thing is that so much money is on the sidelines and a lot of deals not getting done because of wait-and-see and very poor bank financing options. Deals are still happening and are getting done but just not as many and not as fast as in 2008.