The first two days of ReCon 2010, the annual convention of the shopping center industry, have produced some colorful quotes and sharp insights. What follows are some highlights from the trenches.

Leo Ullman, president, CEO and chairman of Cedar Shopping Centers, addressing the issue of vulnerable retail tenants and concepts in today’s marketplace during a panel discussion hosted by Marcus & Millichap:

“Both Borders and Barnes & Noble have gotten recent infusions of capital. They are not properties I would invest in so quickly. I think that they make money on the coffee shops and the gift items. They are asking to downsize, and they are not exercising their full renewal options. They are looking to renew for one year at a time. I see those two as doomed. I don’t think the book business is really viable.”

Sarah Palin, former vice presidential candidate and governor of Alaska, revealing a family secret during an opening-day speech before hundreds of attendees:

“I have to confess that I’ve never been the biggest shopper in the world. My daughters, I guess thankfully, they are obsessed with shopping. Whenever we’re together traveling, the first thing they do is they want to go find where the hippest shopping center is, or where the most convenient place to shop is. I always ask them, ‘Don’t you want to go hear Momma talk? Don’t you want to hear the speech?’ And no, they look at me like they’re going to answer like, ‘Is a bear Catholic? Does the pope live in the woods? No, we don’t want to hear you speak, we want to go shop.’”

Michael Carroll, president and CEO of Centro Properties Group, highlighting retail real estate trends during a panel discussion:

“The real big trend is that debt has returned to the market. If you go back 12 months ago, if you had a property to finance or refinance, your only choice was to deal with the local regional bank. And it had to be a deal size that was $20 million or less, and it had to be an easy-to-understand, straightforward property without a lot of issues. Today, the options are numerous. You have mortgage REITs that have come into the market, you have the life companies back, and the money center banks are out there aggressively trying to build CMBS pipelines. Transactions and equity will follow that debt.”

David Israel, executive vice president at Thor Equities, speaking on the evolution of the capital markets during a panel discussion:

“We are seeing more lending happening. It’s still disciplined. Historically, it seems like late 2005 or early 2006 when discipline was still being used on the CMBS side. Lower leverage is still a little bit of a bait and switch. The lender says ‘we’ll give you 70% to 80% loan-to-value,’ but then the property never appraises at that level. Old players are coming back into the business, and new players are coming in and testing the waters. We’re very optimistic about the next six months.”

Frederick Schmidt, president and chief operating officer, Coldwell Banker Commercial, commenting on the economic impact of a weakened consumer:

“The U.S. consumer accounted for 65% to 75% of U.S. gross domestic product going into the downturn. Coming out of it, the question becomes: Are we going to consume our way out of this when all is said and done? We’re not sure yet. Is it an economic shift, meaning we’ll cycle back up with retail? Or is there a permanent change going on in consumer buying behavior, and how does that manifest itself in terms of real estate?”

Jeffrey Thompson, president of Robert B. Aikens & Associates, offering his perspective on the genesis of today’s commercial real estate slump:

“We’ve never been through a time when we’ve seen this huge devaluation in commercial real estate. I’ve never seen it in my lifetime. Where we went wrong is that it got too easy to get money, and too many people got into the business who didn’t understand the business. The fundamentals are still there. If you have a well-located project with the right retailers lined up in the right market, you still have a good, solid project. But there are a lot of projects that got built around the country in the past 10 years that left you asking, ‘What are they doing?’ It didn’t make any sense.”

Matthew Sullivan, principal, Lee & Associates, explaining why lenders are underestimating the pent-up demand for distressed assets:

“The lenders are so scared of the distressed real estate environment that they are surprised by the large demand for inventory when they take an asset through the final stages. That’s true whether the property is marketed by the lender as a real estate owned (REO) property or by the receiver. We’re selling properties at a 25% premium over the appraised value across almost all property types, including retail. If the property is in a tertiary location, it’s a harder sell.”

Palin, recalling her early exposure to the shopping center business:

“I do remember our first mall that we got in our little tiny town of Wasilla. I remember that mall because every kid in Wasilla at one time or another it seemed worked at that mall. It was kind of at the center of our town once it was built. I remember doing inventory at the grocery store part of the shopping center. We’d sweep the paved parking lot. A paved parking lot was a big darn deal in Wasilla at the time. You would sweep it and the store owner would pay us enough so that we could raise some money to go on trips for sports and softball tournaments and all that.”