Easton Town Center's success wasn't always a sure thing. Here's why.

Easton is the crown jewel of Columbus shopping destinations (read more about Easton's growth and success here)-and for many, one of the city's defining spots. But Easton's legacy wasn't always a sure thing, says Adam Flatto, president of Manhattan-based Georgetown Co., Easton's joint-venture partner with L Brands.

"It was such a departure from the way tenants normally look at equations for deciding" whether to move into a new shopping development, Flatto says. Department stores are critical, he says. "But augmenting it with food (and nightlife) gives customers a reason to come to the project more than they ever would otherwise."

Even as more shoppers choose to buy online, he says that Easton's traffic is rising, sales are improving and the center is 99 percent leased.

What made you sure Easton Town Center would be a winner?

The genesis really started with (Les) Wexner, as so many things at Easton have. Les' vision was rooted in the understanding of what was happening to the shopping-mall business back in the early- to mid-1990s. At the time, Limited Brands had (hundreds) of stores-and it still does-in shopping malls across the country. Wexner recognized that customers were going less often to the typical enclosed mall. When they went, it was for shorter periods of time. He was very concerned that the development model for regional malls was becoming stale, that customers had lost their emotional connection with the shopping experience. He wanted to encourage developers to think differently and rethink the offerings that could be provided to customers in a retail environment. We took Les' vision and advanced the concept of creating a place that would potentially have an emotional connection with customers the way the typical enclosed regional malls had lost. The concept was to create something that Columbus didn't have, which was this walking district. A place where people could come to window shop, put on their coats, see their friends, grab something to eat, and do it in an environment that harkened back to what they might imagine the Main Street of a town would have been.

Why do you think enclosed malls lost their emotional connection to shoppers?

In many ways, going into the typical enclosed regional mall is the same in any city. They have the same feel, the same layout, the same tenants. … It was a predictable trip each time you went.

How did your company's Manhattan roots influence Easton's aesthetic?

I believe that the crux of the decision to go in that direction was really Wexner. He understands the customer and understands this business better than anybody in the country. It was his vision and his pushing us to find and go in a different direction that yielded a very different project. His goal was not just to create something wonderful for Columbus, which he obviously did; it was to demonstrate to the entire retail industry that one can think about a regional shopping destination in a very different manner.

How has Easton exceeded your original expectations?

We never anticipated Easton becoming such a dominant retail and commercial destination as it has. The town center is now generally recognized as one of the top 30 retail locations in the United States, and one of the handful that have been developed in the last 20 years. What we've been committed to doing over this period of time is not to sit back and harvest the rewards of the success, but rather to reinvest and reinvent and keep pushing the envelope to do more. Easton is not a project which we're packaging so we can sell it in a couple years. This is a multi-generational commitment to create something very special. That plays itself out every day in our decisions to improve and enhance the experience, to expand and create more in a world-class fashion.

Excerpts from this interview originally appeared in "Retail E-volution," in the June 2014 issue of Columbus CEO magazine. For the full story, visit ColumbusCEO.com.