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As the Country Club Plaza celebrates 95 years in business this year, its current owners face a daunting task: How to keep the historic and iconic outdoor mall thriving during an era of mall decline?

When Taubman Centers Inc. and the Macerich Co. bought the Plaza in early 2016 for $660 million, they hinted at a few possibilities: bringing some first-to-market tenants to the shopping center while also striking a balance between upscale and mid-range, national and local retailers.

Two and half years later, it seems the strategy is coming to fruition. And none too soon — a May Business Insider story noted that U.S. mall vacancies hit a six-year high in the first quarter of 2018.

Earlier this year, Plaza officials announced that Nordstrom was relocating to the Plaza from Oak Park Mall — the biggest Kansas City retail shakeup, well, since Halls left the Plaza to consolidate with its Crown Center store.

Also new to the Plaza: locally owned Made In Kansas City Marketplace.

Some first-to-market tenants have indeed signed on, including New York-based cult-favorite Shake Shack.

Along the way, however, some longtime tenants have gone — Zoom Toy Store, Houston’s, Talbots, St. John Knits, Swirk Jewelers, Plaza III the Steakhouse — leaving about a dozen empty storefronts.

But Plaza officials say they are being deliberate about how to fill its 804,000 square feet of retail space to keep the center vibrant — through its centennial anniversary and beyond.

Meredith Keeler, general manager of the Plaza, said the right tenant mix will ultimately include “beloved local businesses, popular national brands and emerging retailers with an emphasis on those that are unique to market. With differing lease terms and other business considerations, this type of change takes time — we are not in a business that transforms overnight.”

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