With the holiday shopping season nipping at the heels, new South Shore Plaza General Manager Rick Tonzi is prepping for an exciting new chapter in his mall management career.
And with new stores opening and Santa already taking photos in the mall, Tonzi said he’s more ready than ever.
Boston Globe: What is your background in mall management?
Rick Tonzi: I’ve been doing this for 25 years now. I did 14 years with Steve Karp in New England Development…in '88 I got into the shopping business. I was involved in Emerald Square, then Cambridge Galleria for 3 years. Then a year and a half at Greendale Mall in Worcester, then Arsenal Mall as the GM, then until a few months ago, I was at Burlington Mall as the GM.
I also was the assistant manager at Saks fifth Ave – New York, Chicago, and LA…I moved here to be an assistant mall manager at Filene's in Natick, then jumped into the shopping center business.
BG: When did you get the job?
RT: I started the beginning of July, but I was running Burlington and South Shore until I was replaced [in Burlington] in late August.
BG: Now that you’ve been here a few months, what is working well at the plaza now?
RT: The plaza has been a cornerstone property for Simon since the day they bought it. Burlington and South Shore Plaza was owned by CPI in the late 90s, and then and now continue to be one of the two best marquee properties outside of Boston, both in size, sales productivity, and traffic. It has a great location.
We expanded a couple of years ago in the Nordstrom wing, which was needed in the reputation of the plaza, so it is a very busy property. Being nine miles from Boston, right on public transportation, that’s different from Burlington; it’s a diverse population of customers and employees.
It has a couple parking garages and a truck tunnel that goes beneath the property. So those are the key differences between Burlington and here. And we have outparcels with freestanding restaurants … they are separate from the mall. We manage the property but they are not attached to the property.
But when it comes down to it, it’s the same thing. It’s clean, well lit, secure, comfortable for retailers, customers, the town…it’s been busy learning customers and stores. Here we have a mayor, which is different from Burlington, which was town meeting…so love the new challenge.
BG: Moving forward, what do you feel is not working right now? What would you change?
RT: Little things. This is a great property. I can’t say I’m going to put my stamp on it. I’m trying to create a ppositive atmosphere with staff and stores and enjoy while we’re here 60 hours a week.
Things can always be better, we’re slowly coming out of the economic downturn and having some turnover with stores. We’re always on the hunt for better stores that will drive traffic to the property, but it’s a good center. I don’t know how much I will put my stamp on it.
BG: What are some upcoming developments for the mall?
RT: Probably the biggest in the spring will be DSW shoes replacing Filene's basement – a fixture here for a number of years…
We lost Crate and Barrel, and temporarily Christmas Tree Shops is taking it for the holidays. That will be the biggest change – repurposing that 8,000 square foot space. Too early to discuss what it's going to be, but we have an opportunity to do something exciting. It also has an exterior entrance, so there are all kinds of possibilities we’re exploring.
We have Tilly’s - a California skating/surfing juniors store that will open here in a couple of weeks. We had very cool Love Culture; it has hit the ground running and done very well...
We just invested a substantial amount of money 3-4 years ago, so I don’t know how much development we can do on the site. We’re maxed out on the site, but we have some leasing in the Nordstrom ring, the Crate and Barrel with be an exciting redevelopment of that space – could be multiple uses.
We have Rodizio Grill opening up and may go into January. It’s a Brazilian steakhouse. It will open up on the other side of the mall entrance from Legal Sea Food.
I think that’s the snapshot for the next couple months. Christmas décor is all up, Santa is in his chair, and it's nice to have a new consistent décor package…it looks very nice. The big change we moved Santa photo op into the Nordstrom wing, where it has a lot more room and is in the center of the mall.
BG: So are you excited to begin this next chapter in your mall management career?
RT: Definitely so. I was at Burlington for 12 years, went through a tremendous amount of development, renovations, and putting Crate and Barrel into the parking lot and Nordstrom wing and another renovations. It ran the course. And this is a much bigger property and much more challenges with parking decks and truck tunnel and 25 acres more, but I’m excited by the challenge.
[I’m] looking forward to getting through Christmas where I can get my feet into the place. Right now it’s a hurricane…