The future of the traditional U.S. shopping mall (as many of us remember them growing up) is changing.
Ask anyone over the age of 50 what a shopping mall looked like when they were growing up – they would tell you about getting dressed up with the family to visit the department store, eat lunch, and maybe visit Santa or see a parade. Large department stores thrived (i.e., Sears, Roebuck and Company, May Company, and Higbees) since competitors like Home Depot and Lowes weren’t saturating the market yet, making department stores the place to go for your household goods.
Talk to anyone between the ages of 35-50 and their memories may be a little different. Malls became the place to hang out after school – food courts replaced restaurants as the “new” trend and movie theaters started getting bigger and better. Department stores like Dillards, Kauffmans, and JC Penney faced competition from growing retailers like Target and Wal-Mart, but were still going strong enough to hold their own.
Fast forward to today. The landscape for the traditional indoor mall is evolving and many commercial retailers are looking for more creative ways to market their space to keep up with the insurgence of the mixed-use outdoor malls and shopping strip centers that are replacing the old traditional malls in many cities throughout the U.S.
The consequences for not being able to keep up with the changing trends in retail are all too obvious for some cities. In fact, a photographer recently gained notoriety as his photos of abandoned indoor shopping malls made national news giving viewers a look at what has happened to many once-thriving shopping malls, now deserted and left as eye sores in many local communities.
Randall Mall – North Randall, Ohio. Photo by Seph Lawless
According to a recent panel discussion at the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) annual RECon convention, the retail center of the future will have to do more than just offer stores to shop in. Panelists at RECon agreed that tomorrow’s shopping center will have to entertain customers, giving them an experience that includes social-media, green spaces and areas for entertainment.
“Malls will have to evolve into destination “third places” akin to Apple stores and Starbucks shops if they expect to thrive, said Bob Debbas, CEO of CrowdT, a crowdfunded online apparel seller. “They will have cooking classes, more fashion stores, more experiential eating places, and features such as indoor skiing, like in Dubai.”
An example of a thriving outdoor mixed-use mall includes the Stark Enterprises owned Crocker Park, located in Westlake, Ohio (just west of Cleveland). The outdoor project encompasses 12 city blocks and features a mixture of internationally known retail stores, office buildings, restaurants, luxury apartments and homes. There is a movie theater with stadium seating on site, as well as a kid-friendly splash park, a larger than life chess table, and live music. The center attracts the likes of young folks who want to hang out, as well as the families who can come and spend the entire day.
Crocker Park – Westlake, Ohio. Photo: Stark Enterprises
Likewise, Ann Arbor-based McKinley Inc., whose slogan “Live, Work, Shop, Play” encompasses the characteristics of the modern shopping experience, owns several thriving mixed-use retail centers. The McKinley Town Centre-Liberty features a redevelopment with office space and retailers like Bar Louie, American Apparel, Starbucks, Potbelly Sandwich Works, and CVS. The center is located on a main corridor that connects downtown Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan central campus, making it appealing to the young professionals who wish to have their office, residence and shopping all within walking distance from each other.
McKinley Town Centre-Liberty – Ann Arbor, Michigan. Photo: McKinley, Inc.
But the traditional U.S. Mall isn’t dead just yet. According to ICSC, the occupancy rates of U.S. malls hit 94.2 percent at the end of 2014, their highest level in 27 years. ICSC says the increased traffic to the thriving malls is due largely to the closing of the weakest ones, combined with a recent uptick in retail sales.
Like any business, change is inevitable. Only time will tell which changes for the U.S. mall will be the lasting ones.
What do you think about the changing landscape of the U.S. mall? Tell us in the comments section below.