In the commercial real estate industry, specifically regarding retail, the Levin Management Corp. name carries a lot of clout. It should — the firm has been around for 70 years. This year, the North Plainfield-based firm is celebrating its platinum anniversary.
Levin has been active in the market since the post-World War II suburban migration sparked the first open-air shopping center development in New Jersey — the still-thriving, 220,000-square-foot Somerset Shopping Center in Bridgewater.
In the early 1950s, Philip Levin and a handful of other visionaries — including Alfred Taubman, Melvin Simon and Ed DeBartolo — recognized and responded to shifting consumer shopping patterns tied to post-WWII suburban development. Once housing spread further out and everyone had cars, there was no place to park in traditional downtowns — where retail was centered. The availability of underutilized, vacant land on the outskirts was there for the taking.
Shopping in those days was simple and easy to understand: There were drugstores, five-and-dimes, food markets and all the little things that went along with them, such as hair salons, shoe stores, jewelry stores, etc. Those men knew the Main Street merchants would be drawn to locations outside of town by the offer of direct parking adjacent to their stores.
Levin established a shopping center design that is known as the “dumbbell concept” — a building with a supermarket on one end, a variety store on the other, and a small strip of stores in between. It was a cookie-cutter approach to development that worked. The land was cheap; financing was readily available; and tenants were ready, willing and able to jump on board.
Seven decades later, LMC manages a portfolio of 125 properties totaling approximately 16 million square feet in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states. Its clients are institutional, fiduciary and individual owners — the firm’s activity includes a variety of retail product types, as well as office and industrial assets.
At its core, though, is still LMC’s ability to be a grocery-anchored, open-air shopping center specialist. The proportion of this product type in LMC’s portfolio is a real advantage.
Levin has many tenants that have been with it for decades — Steck’s Delicatessen in Bridgewater is one of Levin’s long-term tenants, which opened in the Somerset location in 1959 and is still there today. Others have moved within a center or have grown and moved to a different LMC property.
“The landlord-tenant relationship is key, and really important to help tenants do business, whether that’s through making sure they keep the properties operating well, looking good and working with tenants,” Matthew Harding, CEO of LMC, told ROI-NJ.
From Korvette’s and Woolworth to Caldor and Bradlees, Harding says LMC has seen the progression of department and discount stores over the years.
“Over time and over the course of the company’s history, there has been a tremendous evolution and change in retail and, therefore, retail real estate,” Harding said. “Our company has seen it all. There have been many changes, and we adapted with things like repositioning properties, renovating properties and retenanting properties over time,” he added.
LMC’s 70th year in business comes at a time of sustained organizational growth. The firm completed a record 1.2 million square feet in leasing activity in 2021, with high volume continuing to date in 2022.
Where is the future going?
Harding feels that retail is going to continue to evolve and evolve more quickly — COVID and technology, he said, definitely spurred that. He believes there are exciting times ahead.
“We are very focused on trying to work with local and regional tenants and then national tenants, as well. We’re really evolving and doing a great job of meeting customers’ needs — be it an online retailer getting closer to their customer with a bricks-and-mortar store, or a new concept and independent business owner. The future is very positive, and Levin’s experience can help a client get to the right solution,” Harding stated.
Sounds like a good recipe for another 70 years.
With all the adaptations that have come over the many decades, one thing that stays true, according to Harding, is LMC’s consistency. LMC’s goal of focusing on supporting its assets so they remain competitive and can best serve their local markets is key.
“Good real estate transactions have become more complicated over time. So, a company like ours that has experience really can help get to the right solution. Be it for a vacant space or repositioning a shopping center or turning it into something else,” Harding said.
LMC’s institutional knowledge and ability to deal with change really helped it, especially through 2020 and 2021.
“All of our experiences really helped us quite a bit during COVID, which was the most trying of times, for everybody, of course, and in our industry as well,” Harding said.
And where does that experience come from? Harding said it is LMC’s people.
“LMC’s achievements also have hinged on having a close-knit team all working together under one roof, and the leadership of an executive team with a 265-year combined tenure,” Harding said. “The quality and talent of our people resonate in LMC’s reputation and respect among clients, tenants and industry peers — this is a great source of pride for all of us.”