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July 1, 2009 5:18 PM

Retail

Not Quite a Palace

WEST NYACK, N.Y. — Anyone who has been to the Palisades Center will understand why it annoys me on a number of levels. (No pun intended.)...

WEST NYACK, N.Y. — Anyone who has been to the Palisades Center will understand why it annoys me on a number of levels. (No pun intended.)
First, there's the layout. Each rectangular floor is built around an atrium separating shoppers on one side from the stores on the other side. The placement of escalators forces you to walk around the perimeter of the entire floor. And you have to walk to a separate bank of escalators to reach the parking garage.

From Route 287, which runs parallel to Palisades, you can see multiple store names on the undistinguished buildings. The problem is, a sign's placement often has nothing to do with the store's actual location. For example, you could walk into a door with a sign for one retailer, expecting to find it there. In reality, it could be located clear across the mall. The Home Depot and B.J.'s aren't even accessible from the the shopping center.

Why would a retailer want to open a store at Palisades? I asked Aéropostale senior vice president of marketing Scott Birnbaum this recently. Aéropostale last month unveiled P.S. Aero, a new retail concept geared to seven- to 12-year-olds, at Palisades. "It's a strange mall," I said, to break the ice. "Tell me about it," Birnbaum agreed.

Yet despite the mall's idiosyncrasies, which include a 150-year-old cemetary for African American veterans next to the Barnes & Noble parking deck, Palisades Center has something retailers cannot ignore: lots and lots of foot traffic. It's sometimes impossible on weekends to see a movie at the AMC Loews Palisades Center theater, despite its 21 screens, because they are all sold out.

The economy has changed much about the mall, which bowed amid controversy in 1998. When the shopping center first opened, it used to be nigh impossible to get a table at one of the restaurants on the fourth floor. Macaroni Grill and Legal Seafood handed out beepers, but a person could devour all 10 of their fingernails before hearing their name called. Both eateries are no longer at Palisades, and the fourth floor now has a certain Al Bundy-meets-frat boy quality with Buffalo Wild Wings, Harvard Square import Fire + Ice, Dave & Busters, TGI Friday's and Lucky Strike Lanes.

P.S. Aero came to Palisades with its eyes wide open. Older sibling Aéropostale has a store on the second floor. As Birnbam said, the mall is all about choosing the right location. P.S. Aero's 3,500-square-foot store on the third level is in like company with the Disney Store, Children's Place, Gymboree, GapKids and BabyGap.

"I couldn't say 'no,'" Birnbaum said of the location. Another attraction: the fact the P.S. Aero space is within spitting distance of the food court.

Palisades has done a good job of clustering like-minded retailers together. Fashion brands are mainly found on the first floor, the only area in the mall with carpeting and decent common area furniture. There's Lord & Taylor and Macy's, along with A|X Armani Exchange, Banana Republic, BCBGMax Azria, Brooks Brothers, H&M, Gilly Hicks, Esprit, United Colors of Benneton, White House|Black Market and Victoria's Secret.

Palisades can sometimes seem like two different malls. Customers of the fashion brands may never venture beyond the first floor and fiery chicken wing eaters may keep to themselves on the fourth level. That's OK with Birnbaum as long as the children's and teen's apparel selection remains strong.
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