The final numbers are in, and 2008 was the worst holiday shopping season in a generation, marking an ignoble finish to a dismal year for retail. That has proved to be enough to send some weakened retailers over the brink in 2009. Already by our count, 14 companies have announced plans to file for bankruptcy, liquidate or close stores. That amounts to 1,433 locations. There are surely more to come.

Things have become so dire that for the past couple of months commercial real estate trade groups, including ICSC, have been lobbying hard for government assistance in the form of an “extension of the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility to guarantee, finance or purchase highly rated, asset-backed securities collateralized by newly or recently originated commercial real estate mortgages.” Overall, 12 groups signed onto a letter sent to Treasury Secretary Paulson in late November and the groups have taken their case to the public with high-profile stories appearing recently in the mainstream media making a case for the bailout.

Will things get better? Many eyes are turned toward President Barack Obama and his new economic team. Indications are that he will look to enact a massive stimulus package shortly that could be worth up to $1 trillion in new spending and tax breaks in 2009 and 2010. That is a big figure, but over two years it comes out to replacing what homeowners had been pulling out annually through home equity lines of credit.

All of this does create some hope. Many pundits expect 2009 to be a lost year with recovery not in store until early 2010 or later. But others think that the combined efforts of the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve Bank and the Obama administration could turn things around sooner — perhaps before the end of the year.

In the retail real estate universe, opportunistic plays will emerge for investors. The real trick will be determining the optimum time to strike. Do you buy a distressed asset now or do you wait to see if prices come down just a bit further? Creative and up-and-coming retailers in a position to expand will get a crack at all sorts of prime real estate at decreased rents. Developers with cash may find bargains on land and gain access to sites that were previously off limits.

In this context, Retail Traffic will strive to provide incisive and up-to-the-minute news and analysis of the retail real estate sector. Now is not the time to sugarcoat what's going on. Retail Traffic can play a role in helping see the industry through these hard times. It can also share the success stories and best practices that emerge and profile the retailers poised to take advantage of today's conditions.

In order to best play that role, Retail Traffic is changing too. Industry pros need to know the latest information on financing trends and cap rates and on what retailers have up their sleeves as they continue to wrestle with challenging business conditions. We need to keep pace with the developments within the industry.

To do this, we have begun to update our Web site, retailtrafficmag.com much more frequently. On Mondays, look for our Chart of the Week that highlights new research and data in the retail real estate sector. On Tuesdays, we will provide News Analyses. On Thursdays, we offer exclusive Online Features — lengthy examinations of key markets, design, construction, development, management, investment, financing and retailer expansion plans. And on Fridays, we provide in-depth analysis of a Deal of the Week. Lastly, the Traffic Court blog continues to be updated daily with links to news, analysis and commentary from the Web relevant to the retail real estate sector.