Baltimore was extremely well-represented at last week’s Innovating Commerce Service Communities (ICSC) dealmaking session, which returned to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City following a pandemic-induced 36-month break.

Ashkenazy Acquisition, KLNB Retail, Lee & Associates, MCB Real Estate and mfi Realty were among the local companies with booths at the show. Representatives were also spotted from David S. Brown Enterprises, BCT Design Group, Continental Realty Corporation, Commercial Settlement Services, MacKenzie Commercial Real Estate Services and St. John Properties.

It’s been so long since ICSC last sponsored an event at the Big Apple that the trade organization had time to rebrand itself from the former International Council of Shopping Centers. The mood from the showroom floor and the content presented at the seminars was generally upbeat and suggested optimism for the year ahead.

QSR leads retail categories

Quick-Serve Restaurants (QSR) remain the most active and sought-after retail category, with its growth tied to the increasingly time-deprived American consumer and the perceived value of its food offerings. According to John Schultz, Senior Vice President and Principal of MacKenzie Retail, there are more tenants looking for quality retail spaces than are available for lease, specifically in grocery-anchored and multi-tenanted centers situated in Class A locations.

“Niche fitness concepts are Internet-resistant and [fitness centers] that specialize in one activity, such as boxing or Pilates, are particularly in demand,” Schultz said.

“Overall, this year’s event feels like a solid comeback,” said Bill Holzman, Vice President, Retail Leasing for St. John Properties, Inc. “There is good energy on the floor and most retailers are in strong deal-making mode. The most active categories are quick serve restaurants, coffee shops, and gas station/c-store concepts, but grocery stores are looking for new sites, and some casual dining uses are showing renewed interest. The general feeling on the floor is that the show has been productive.”

Lessons learned from the pandemic

During a panel discussion about future consumer trends,’s Director of Marketing Ethan Chernofsky talked about the many lessons learned during the pandemic. He said, at the outset, consumers preferred a one-stop shopping experience to minimize indoor interactions but now, especially with rising prices, a more cost-conscious approach is the typical behavior.

“Companies with the best customer service model and frictionless shopping approach were rewarded. Other retailers, such as Best Buy, took advantage of opportunities. When the number of shoppers were limited in stores, the electronics retailer established an appointment-only shopping model for time periods throughout the day. Consumers that took advantage of this offer show extreme purchase intent and, in turn, Best Buy employees were motivated to provide the highest-quality experience,” he said.

Speaking of customer service, James Cook – Americas Director of Research, Retail for JLL – says Trader Joe’s leads the pack. “Prospective employees first need to pass a personality test before segueing to intense customer training including role-playing exercises. Trader Joe’s treats its associates as the most valuable aspect of its store. Others could learn from this model.”

Baltimore firms tap regional opportunities

Ever since ICSC moved its New York venue away from a downtown hotel and assumed a more Las Vegas-like show floor environment, the presence of Baltimore-area companies and professionals increased.

“Although we are headquartered in Baltimore, we are active in 30 states and this show provides us with the opportunity to see our investors and partners in person, as well as form new relationships throughout the industry,” explained P. David Bramble, Managing Partner and Co-Founder of MCB Real Estate, LLC.

“You always see a lot of Baltimore faces at this New York show and there seems to be tremendous enthusiasm, optimism and activity here which bodes well,” said Robert Northfield, Principal, BCT Design Group. “Ground-up retail development activity continues to be limited, with the focus shifted to repositioning older products and the densification of both urban and suburban properties.”