By Ed Brock
A little more than three years ago Judy Pritchett was an assistant manager at a Hugo-Boss store in north Atlanta mall when she made a life decision.
”I started to go from the tenant side (of the mall business) to the landlord side,“ Pritchett said.
That move has brought her to Morrow and the position of general manager of Southlake Mall, a position she took up last Monday.
She assumes the position from Cris Burgum, the previous manager who is going to Northpoint Mall in Alpharetta. And she comes in at a time when the city is still trying to find a replacement for the Macy's Department Store that closed nearly three years ago and when a new shopping center is opening in Henry County.
But Pritchett, a native of Baltimore, says she's excited about the new position.
”I got a note from the team (at Southlake) saying welcome,“ Pritchett said. ”Cris has left this center in such great shape I can just walk in here and talk to the people and hit the ground running.“
Pritchett began her move into mall management by joining the inaugural class of the Real Estate Associate Program in 2002, a privately sponsored program designed to increase minority presence in the commercial real estate industry. After that she held an assistant general management position at Perimeter Mall and was general manager of Greenbriar Mall in Atlanta prior to taking the job at Southlake Mall.
It's a bigger center than Greenbriar and Pritchett said she's impressed by the diversity of the customer base.
”I think the location is excellent,“ Pritchett said. ”I think the merchandise mix is good and getting better.“
The thing that pleases her most is the opportunity to participate in the leasing of spots in the mall to new businesses.
”It's exciting for me because I'll be directly impacting what you'll see out there,“ Pritchett said.
Burgum said he's brought in new stores including Cellular Sales and a barbershop and, along with the mall's former leasing representative Sam Merritt, brought about the expansion of Royal Leather and Watches Unlimited. Also, last year the mall saw a four percent increase in sales.
”Our sales are up about six percent this year to date, so we're having a very good year,“ Burgum said.
But the challenge of filling the gaping hole left by the closing of Macy's remains.
”There's definitely movement,“ Burgum said. ”The city's working on a couple of things, but nothing to be released right now.“
Pritchett said she's happy about the city's plans for development around the mall, plans that include a commercial aviation museum, a Savannah-style river walk, a destination entertainment district full of clubs and stylish restaurants and more.
Burgum said the mall is looking for ways to partner with the city on that project.
As for the planned South Point open air mall in Henry County, expected to open in spring 2007, Pritchett said she's not worried.
”I don't view it as a competitor, I view it as a complement,“ Pritchett said.
In other words, shoppers will simply have a choice between going to an open air mall and going to an enclosed mall.
”It's an environmentally controlled experience so you tend to linger a little longer in an enclosed mall,“ Pritchett said.
Also, from what she's heard South Point will have a different mix of merchants, Pritchett said.
The mall would sit on 90 acres on Ga. Highway 81 North near McDonough and could include a movie theater. It is currently in the ”pre-development process,“ said Jenn Weyand, spokeswoman for North American Properties, one of the mall's developers.
There's one more challenge Pritchett will meet due to the timing of her taking up the reins. Next month the holiday shopping season will officially begin.
”We're talking about some very new things we're going to try for this holiday season,“ Pritchett said.
Pritchett lives in DeKalb County with her husband Elgin and their two children, 8-year-old daughter Timi and 4-year-old son Dylan.