Essays by John McNellis

Retail: One Year After

A year ago, our shopping centers were shuttered, and our tenants so crushed we forgave their April rent. Believing the world would reopen by mid-April, we thought our merchants would have a couple weeks of free-rent to make up for March’s closure. We couldn’t have been more wrong. A year later and we’re…

Retail’s Not-So-Artificial Intelligence

Geofence: A virtual boundary set up around a geographical location, such as a shopping center or retail space. Owning retail has been challenging since the Great Recession. You likely know the reasons why: overbuilding, the internet, rapacious private equity, too many lackluster tenants. You also know…

The City in 2025

Twenty years ago, I attended a real estate conference that featured a very impressive doctor as a keynote speaker. This Harvard doctor didn’t merely proclaim, but flat-out guaranteed that cancer would be cured within five years. Seven years ago, I chanced to sit next to Astro Teller and Sebastian Thrun…

The Art *on* the Deal

“There is no there there.” When Gertrude Stein wrote that deathless line about Oakland, it seems she wasn’t being snarky after all; she was grieving over the loss of her girlhood home to its path of growth. What would the poet say today? Oakland is popping: 2400 residential units built since 2016, another…

High Times In the Plague Year

Landlords already know this: People are getting more toasted than Wonder Bread. Happy Hour starts at 3 o’clock. Tenants selling reality-relief are killing it. I called a number of retailers to double-check my desultory anecdotal evidence. One, the owner of a first-rate supermarket chain, said his alcohol…

Flight of the Techies

Viewed a certain way, life resembles a Vegas sports book — its dramas have at least a few winners; not everyone loses. Covid-19 is no exception. The airline industry is on the tarmac, but RVs have never been in greater demand. Public transportation has a flat tire, yet bicycles can’t be found for love…

California Flame-Out?

“Scotts Valley evacuated. Our Safeway center is shut down,” my partner texted last Friday. That meant four of our shopping centers in Northern California were threatened by wildfires. The CZU complex fire, the one endangering Scotts Valley and Santa Cruz, remains out of control as of this writing. Another…

A Vaccine for Retail?

Retail has the virus. Just as with people, different retailers are reacting to this infection very differently. Ailing merchants with comorbidities are suffering — or dying — while those without long-term illnesses are asymptomatic, even healthy. Excess capacity — too many stores — has been American…

Plagued Retail and the View from the Trenches

I have two options that are non-negotiable. I’m going bankrupt (chapter 7). COVID happened, and I cannot survive. I’d rather not go through bankruptcy, because it ruins my credit, but if I have no choice, I won’t think twice. The second option is to let you keep my deposit and take what I have in the…

The Post Plague Office

Real Estate in the Plague Year Last week, Mark Zuckerberg said he believes that half of Facebook’s employees will be working from home over the next 10 years. To that point, Facebook released the results of an internal employee poll: 50 percent plus want to get back to the office, while 40 percent would…


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