Thousands of retail owners, developers and brokers across the country are just hours away from boarding planes with a final destination of Las Vegas and the annual RECON (ICSC) Convention. According to retail industry veterans, it’s a show unlike any other. It is a place where people meet, deals get done, and the stage is set for the balance of the year.
This year’s show marks the seventh for Amy Levin, director of leasing at Northbrook-based Next Realty. As she continued to put the finishing touches on her schedule—including a luncheon sponsored by Next and several partners—Illinois Real Estate Journal caught up with Amy to talk about her expectations for the RECON Show, the retail industry and highlights of both her professional and personal life.
Illinois Real Estate Journal: What are you most looking forward to about ICSC in Las Vegas?
Amy Levin: I always look forward to seeing/meeting new people and prospective tenants. Building new relationships is so important, so I try to focus on meeting as many new people as possible—especially those that are outside of the Chicago area—while promoting existing opportunities at the centers we own in various parts of the country. Personally, I am also ready to spend a little free time at the Black Jack tables.
IREJ: What is the most challenging aspect of ICSC?
Levin: This is the biggest ICSC event of the year and brings an incredible amount of people (like more than 30,000 people) together in a short period of time. Everyone has the same goal–to meet with one-another and discuss prospective retail and retail investment opportunities.
The most challenging part is trying to make time and fit everyone in, especially in a short period of time.
IREJ: Who has been the greatest influence on you in your career? (A current or former boss? Someone you met or heard speak? A teacher or family member who inspired you?)
Levin: My mother has had the greatest influence on me. She went back to school for her second degree in Occupational Therapy when I was only three years old. We resided in Arlington Heights and she would travel to Milwaukee daily while also being a full-time mother of three. She is retiring this summer after 31 rewarding years as an Occupational Therapist and Certified Hand Therapist. Her perseverance and dedication, not only to her family, but also her patients have taught me so much about hard work and personal growth.
IREJ: What is your assessment of the retail industry/marketplace in Chicago as we approach mid-year 2016?
Levin: The market looks to be heading in the right direction. We’ve seen continued employment growth which has aided in steady increases in retail sales volumes. We have seen rising rents and retail vacancy rates have also dropped significantly.
There are still numerous fast casual, specialty fitness, furniture, grocery, and discount fashion retailers looking to absorb space, not only here but in secondary locations as well.
IREJ: Looking back on your career thus far, are things going according to plan?
Levin: I think the only plan I ever had was simply to continue to grow my career and learn new things as I gained experience. In that regard, I would say it’s definitely going according to plan. But I do not think anyone can plan their career growth – as long as you can successfully ride the waves, you will be OK. That’s what I try to do, the principle I try to follow.
IREJ: Professionally speaking, what has been your biggest “break” or “highlight”; the event that makes you know you’ve arrived!
Levin: That would be when I entered into the commercial real estate industry. I consider myself a very creative person. When I graduated from college, I had different jobs in sales and management positions. But they never left me feeling entirely fulfilled. When I moved into CRE, I was able to thrive because it gave me an opportunity to capitalize on my strengths and creatively structure challenging deal opportunities.
IREJ: What are a couple of bucket list items — achieved and yet to conquer — and why are they important to you?
Levin: I’d love to run the Chicago marathon – that would definitely be a bucket list item YET to conquer and could see in my future! I would also love to have a Throw Down with Bobby Flay.
IREJ: When not leasing space or traveling to Las Vegas, what do you like to do?
Levin: So many things! I love spending time with my family: my husband, Dan; 5 year old daughter, Mari; and 3 year old son, Pierce. I love to cook, I love to paint, and try new restaurants…
IREJ: How will you unwind after ICSC?
Levin: Probably go home and have a glass of wine with my husband, and snuggle with my kids.
IREJ: Where are your favorite travel destinations?
Levin: I love wine country – Sonoma is my happy place. I love the country, the food, the wine, the life. I do have to give a shout out to San Diego and Hawaii as well – but if I could go to Sonoma every year, that would be ideal.
IREJ: What defines summer in Chicago to you?
Levin: Summer in Chicago is a lot of different things … it’s the festivals, my husband watching the Cubs (this is going to be the best season yet), dining al fresco, The Air & Water Show, Old Town Art Fair, and now, the Lincoln Park Zoo with my kids