17 major retail chains are on The Motley Fool's 2018 death watch

Investment advisor The Motley Fool has flagged 17 major national retail chains as being at risk of failure in 2018, including giants like Sears, JCPenney, and Barnes & Noble, as well as some slightly smaller (but still large) chains, such as J. Crew, Payless, and Nine West.

As we have pointed out before, national retail chains often close outlets not because market demand for their goods and services has disappeared but because there is some problem with the company's overall fundamentals (such as adding new outlets at a financially unsustainable rate). When a chain store closes locally, it could represent an opportunity for one or more locally owned downtown businesses to make a play for the purchases local shoppers might otherwise have made at the chain. Want more information on how your downtown might take advantage of these potential opportunities? Contact us.

Yet another reason why downtown's the best place to eat.

Although Americans are spending more time dining out than in recent decades, it's getting tougher to operate restaurants. Here's one reason: Private equity has been pouring into fast food, fast-casual, and other chain restaurants, pressuring chains and franchisers to open more outlets. And, that's one more reason why it's great for independently owned downtown restaurants, whose personalities and location make them unique.

Credit Suisse predicts 25 percent of shopping malls will close by 2017.

Adding its voice to those of many other investment firms and economic advisors, Credit Suisse now predicts that 25 percent of US shopping malls will close within the next five years. To us, this suggests some significant opportunities for traditional downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts to grab back some retail market share.

More entertainment coming to malls? Maybe not too soon.

Yet more evidence of big changes on the horizon for the shopping mall industry: A new report by real estate analyst CBRE says that, for the mall concept to survive, mall management companies must focus less on department store anchors and on small chains and more on food and entertainment. Only problem is that department stores - currently most malls' major tenants - usually have to approve significant changes beforehand, and their long leases make quick changes very unlikely.

What's going on out there?

The consolidation, downsizing, and outright shuttering of chain retailers continues. In this morning's Weekly Roundup, Fung Global Retail & Technology predicted that 9,452 stores will close by the end of 2017, a 361 percent increase over the previous year. The latest announcements include denim chain True Religion's bankruptcy, hot on the heels of announcements that Sycamore Partners will buy office supply retailer Staples (and close many of the stores), that Sears and Bed Bath & Beyond are closing more stores, and that Eddie Bauer is looking for a buyer.

What's going on? Lots of factors are at play, including overly ambitious chain store expansion plans, consumers' continuing shift toward online shopping, and the many ways in which Millennials' shopping patterns and preferences differ from those of previous generations. Many of these are promising signs for traditional downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts who stand to benefit from capturing sales that shoppers previously spent in now-closed chain stores. After all, independently owned downtown businesses offer shoppers the ultimate combination of personal attention, deep product knowledge, hyper-local market responsiveness - and, for those businesses that are savvy, both bricks-and-mortar and online shopping opportunities.

Want to talk about how to make your downtown more competitive during this period of enormous retail transition? Drop us a line or call us.

A 20-year record for store closings this year?

Drawing on data from Credit Suisse, internet marketing firm Kleiner Perkins predicts that more retail stores will close this year than they have in the past two decades. Things look grim for shopping malls, which rely on chain retailers. But there could be great opportunities for downtowns and neighborhood commercial corridors, whose businesses could see increased sales as chain retailers close. And, independently owned downtown businesses have the ability to customize their products and offer unique experiences tailored to their communities - unlike chain stores. Neil Blumenthal, one of eyeglass retailer Warby Parker's two CEOs, recently said, "I don't think retail is dead. Mediocre retail experiences are dead."

Rough road ahead for chain retailers ... but maybe not so bad for independents.

Yet more bad news for the chain retail industry: February-March were the worst months for retailers since 2009, with retail stores eliminating 60,000 jobs.

This could be good news for downtowns and for independently owned downtown retail businesses, with market share shifting from malls to main streets. Independently owned businesses have always been more adaptable to local markets than chain retailers. And, downtowns already have many non-retail uses.