Skip to main content

Nordstrom left a giant hole in SF’s downtown mall. Could a foreign store soon fill it?

Sources say that the former Westfield mall's new owners are attempting to fill five vacant floors with a European or Asian operator. 

An indoor view of a multi-level shopping area with escalators, elegant railings, and the Nordstrom sign.
New management is telling the remaining tenants of the San Francisco Centre mall that it is circling a major European retailer to step in. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

The new management team charged with leading a turnaround at the struggling former Westfield mall is desperately searching for an anchor tenant to replace the shuttered Nordstrom.

But as opposed to a Macy’s, Neiman Marcus or Saks Fifth Avenue, the new entrant downtown is unlikely to be a well-known name to American shoppers. 

Two longtime San Francisco retail brokers and multiple mall tenants familiar with the plans have confirmed that real estate firms JLL and Trident Pacific are attempting to fill the five vacant floors Nordstrom left behind with a foreign—potentially European—operator. 

Mall tenants were told the information verbally in response to questions about the future of the San Francisco Centre, and brokers were made aware of the plans through conversations with colleagues in the industry.

A spokesperson for JLL and Trident Pacific did not respond to a request for comment, and the Standard could not confirm which retailers may have been approached by the ownership group.

Many of the businesses in the San Francisco Centre mark the August departure of Nordstrom, which left a gaping vacancy of more than 300,000 square feet, as a tipping point in the mall’s rapid downturn.  As part of its commitment to keeping the San Francisco Centre open in the aftermath of its previous owners’ abandonment, the downtown mall’s management team has been hinting openly that it is circling a new major retailer to replace Nordstrom.

Brad Blake, managing partner of real estate firm Blake Griggs Properties, said JLL and Trident Pacific’s job is to create the best situation for creditors to be repaid for the $558 million loan that former owners Westfield and Brookfield Properties bailed on last summer

Negotiating a blockbuster lease would make sense, said Blake, who has served in a management role on other retail properties but is not involved with the downtown San Francisco mall. He noted that at the foreclosed Sunnyvale Town Center mall development, the temporary management team marketed the site to Whole Foods and AMC Theaters—which both signed long-term leases in two years after new owners swooped in. 

An empty mall with Bloomingdale's in the background.
The new management group responsible for preserving as much of San Francisco Centre's value for creditors is looking for another anchor tenant to join Bloomingdale's. | Source: Gina Castro/The Standard

European and Asian retailers now hold a lot of leverage over landlords eager to fill vacancies, according to Michael Berne, president of MJB Consulting, a Berkeley- and New York-based retail planning and real estate consultancy.

“They may be capable of seeing this market more objectively than American [retailers] right now,” Berne said. “They’re not as impacted by the political football and can instead focus on how this might be a golden opportunity to gain entry to a market they had perhaps long coveted but were unable to access in the past.”

While Berne said it was hard to envision a single retailer taking up the entirety of the vacant Nordstrom space, he and other retail experts put forward a few viable retail brands that might be in the sights of the building’s new managers. 

The Standard reached out to each of the following retailers for comment but did not receive any responses. 


The why: The intention is there. Ireland’s answer to the trendy fast-fashion of H&M, Shein and Zara, Primark already has 24 stores across the U.S., and last October, it announced plans to grow that number to over 60 locations by 2026. The retailer—which earned more than $11 billion in revenue last year—was first established in Dublin a half-century ago and, for most of its history, was a regional department store chain.

But after jumping to mainland Europe in 2006, the company is in the midst of an accelerated worldwide expansion. Since arriving stateside in 2015, Primark has released popular collections featuring the likes of Rita Ora, Disney and the National Basketball Association.  

Big interior of department store
Irish fast-fashion retailer Primark's store in Madrid spans more than 130,000 square feet over five floors. | Source: Europa Press News/Getty Images

The why not: While the company is growing its presence in the U.S., it has yet to venture further west than Chicago. Also, although its bargain-based concept would represent a pivot from the mall’s previous reputation as a luxury destination, it may be in line with the mall’s new lowered valuation. Additionally, Primark has never opened a store as large as the vacancy left behind by Nordstrom in San Francisco. The company’s largest location in Birmingham, U.K. spans 160,000 square feet, only around half of the vacated Nordstrom space. 


The why: Similar old-school cachet. Should JLL and Trident want to keep the space high-end, they could simply plug in another pedigreed retail brand like Printemps, the historic French department store chain, which was founded in 1865 and purchased by Qatari investors in 2013. The company’s expansion plans are all focused outside of France, including its first foray into the United States in New York. Its largest location, in Doha, Qatar, is the biggest department store in the Middle East, spanning 430,000 square feet.

Massive department stores with flowing windows and traffic around
French department store Printemps has a massive flagship in Paris and plans to open its first U.S. location later this year in New York City. | Source: Marc Piasecki/Getty Images

The why not: Printemps’ new U.S. flagship in Lower Manhattan is not slated to open until this fall. Moreover, it only leased 54,365 square feet at the historical Financial District building, located at One Wall Street—about one-sixth of the available space at the San Francisco Centre. 


The why: The “eat, shop and learn” destination offers visitors a plethora of experiences in the three stories it occupies at Westfield’s Valley Fair Mall in Santa Clara, including cooking classes, restaurants and an expansive Italian grocery. The company’s success in the South Bay embodies the “experiential” mixed-use retail that is becoming increasingly sought after by consumers—and by landlords. 

people inside a shopping marketplace
Italian retailer Eataly opened its first Bay Area location in San Jose's Valley Fair mall in 2022. | Source: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

The why not: Outside of its multiple locations in New York, the Torino-based company only has two locations in California, in Los Angeles and in San Jose. Notably, it opted to open in thriving Westfield shopping centers and not one that the company decided to abandon. 


The why: Round1, a Japanese bowling and arcade concept, is already replacing the former Nordstrom at Stonestown Galleria. While it might be a stretch for the Osaka-based company to double down on San Francisco so soon, it might find the five floors of available space irresistible for its “eat-and-play” entertainment concept. The brand could divvy up the space for different uses—like bowling on one floor, karaoke on another, or golf driving range simulators where shoppers used to browse intimates. 

Colorful bowling balls lined up on a rack, with a bowling lane visible in the background.
At Stonestown Galleria, Japanese company Round1 is filling in the space Nordstrom left behind in 2019. | Source: Getty Images

The why not: A five-level entertainment destination would be the first of its kind in downtown San Francisco, and the buildout would cost a pretty penny. Moreover, companies like Round1 and its boozy American cousin Dave & Buster’s seem more intent on investing in suburban markets (see: Serramonte). 


The why: Buoyed by a strong year in sales, the Japanese casual clothing powerhouse committed to opening 20 more stores in North America in the coming months. Uniqlo opted to ditch its three-story flagship store, totaling 29,000 square feet, in Union Square in 2021. That closure happened in the aftermath of the stringent pandemic lockdowns. Now, three years removed, a bigger space that previously wasn’t on the market is now available, and the landlord has significantly less leverage. 

shoppers wait in line with clothes
Japanese-owned casual wear retail store Uniqlo chose downtown San Francisco as the site of its first West Coast outpost before shuttering the location during the pandemic. | Source: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

The why not: Absent from Uniqlo’s 2024 expansion plans was any mention of new store openings in California, at least to date. On the West Coast, the Tokyo-based company has only committed to opening two new stores in Washington.