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(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Whole Foods in Trolley Square opened March 14.
Utah’s Trolley Square surviving in face of challenges

5 years after shootings, pain of recession, shopping center moves on.

First Published Feb 11 2012 01:01 am • Last Updated May 08 2013 07:20 am

Trolley Square has survived it all: a shooting rampage that left five dead, the Great Recession and even a legal battle to keep one of its most important tenants, natural-foods behemoth Whole Foods.

The Salt Lake City shopping mall also has endured years of construction — and reconstruction — in an effort to better its performance in the Wasatch Front’s increasingly competitive retail environment.

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Today, most of the work on Trolley Square is completed, Utah’s economy looks as though it’s on the mend and shoppers are out in greater numbers, many of them toting Whole Foods shopping bags. The mall is benefiting from the addition of a number of new tenants that are breathing new life into the 40-year-old shopping center.

"It’s a lot busier — you can even tell the difference during the weekdays, especially in the mornings, which used to be a lot more quiet," said Eric Moldenhauer, general manager of longtime tenant Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. "It’s really nice to see."

Shopper Jodi Miller, of Salt Lake City, sees it, too. "A couple of years ago, you’d go in there and there weren’t many people around. It was sad." Since Whole Foods opened in its own building on the northeast edge of the main mall about a year ago, she’s gone from being a twice-yearly Trolley shopper to one who visits much more frequently.

"Every time I go to Whole Foods, I end up inside the mall, for something," she says, laughing.

That’s exactly what mall owner ScanlanKemperBard Cos. was aiming for in its renovation and expansion of the venerable Salt Lake City shopping center.

As part of Trolley’s rebirth, ScanlanKemperBard, or SKB, has worked to tap into the growth in "nesting" that’s been an offshoot of the recession: people staying home and doing more cooking and entertaining. "We’re still an upscale mall, but more than ever we’re focused on what you need and want for your home," said General Manager Dawn Katter.

Shoppers can still buy clothes, eat lunch or dinner, or buy a gift at Trolley Square, as with most any mall. But these days, the Trolley Square experience also involves activities such as buying groceries and household products at natural foods provider Whole Foods, investing in high-end kitchenware at Williams-Sonoma, getting some new furniture at Pottery Barn or Pottery Barn Kids, and adding to inventories of reading material at Weller Book Works.

But Trolley Square, like others, still has its share of challenges. The 800-pound gorilla of shopping centers, City Creek Center, debuts March 22 in downtown Salt Lake City, a few miles away. The competing mall, which is owned by Taubman Centers Inc., already has lured away one of Trolley’s anchor tenants, Restoration Hardware.


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But that loss seems fairly contained compared to what’s happening over at The Gateway shopping center along downtown’s western edge. The Gateway has lost more than a half-dozen shops to City Creek, and more are expected.

TOP TASK: FILLING SPACE

Although Trolley Square hasn’t lost a lot of tenants, because of the construction of new retail space on the west side of the shopping center and work on the main building, it has its share of empty retail space to fill.

Although the mall has had some success landing tenants, the newest of which is athletic wear retailer lululemon athletica, Trolley Square will have to work hard to keep bringing in new and exciting retailers, all the while trying to retain existing tenants as they are being courted by other shopping centers, said Geoff Kaessner, of commercial brokerage GSK Realty Services in Salt Lake City.

And that’s no small feat, given that City Creek Center, Fashion Place Mall in Murray, Valley Fair Mall in West Valley City and even Station Park to the north in Farmington all are trying to attract many of the same tenants.

"For Trolley, it’s a matter of keeping the momentum going, and that’s tough," Kaessner said.

FIVE DIFFICULT YEARS

But if anything, Trolley Square is a survivor. The property, built on an old trolley complex used until 1945, became a shopping mall in 1972. A number of shopping centers and malls of its era aren’t even around now. Crossroads Plaza mall and ZCMI Center in downtown Salt Lake City, for example, were demolished to make way for the new City Creek development.

Trolley Square has been spruced up over the years, but the entire property was really showing its age when SKB purchased it in August 2006 with plans for a $60 million renovation and expansion of the 10-acre property, bounded by 500 South and 600 South, and 600 East and 700 East. Another four acres along 600 South used for parking that may be developed in the future.

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