by Dan Rafter
The Great Mall of the Great Plains is just the latest: The community mall in Olathe, Kansas, will shut down in the fall of this year. The mall, which opened in 1997, was less than half full when the announcement was made.
And the Olathe mall is far from the only community shopping mall — a mall that’s not quite as big as a regional mall and doesn’t always attract the highest end of retailer — that is closing across the Midwest and the country.
The Northland Center in Southfield, Michigan, is set to close this year, too, now that Target and Macy’s have shut down their locations there. The Lincoln Mall in Matteson, Illinois — a suburb of Chicago — closed in early January.
You can expect this list to continue to grow. It’s not easy for community malls to compete today. Customers are doing more shopping online. Others consider a visit to an outlet mall as a fun way to spend an entire day. Then there’s this fact: Most consumers can find whatever they want to buy in a strip mall located not far from most of the country’s dying community malls.
But Christopher Brochert, partner with Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, developer Lormax Stern, says that community malls aren’t doomed. They can succeed — in the right situations.
A community mall can succeed if it is located in the right area, Brochert said. It needs to be in what he terms a “retail desert,” an area where there isn’t another, larger competing mall nearby. The owners must be willing to invest in the community mall, making it bright and appealing. And owners must attract the right tenants: A community mall filled with cigarette shops and retailers that hawk disposable phones is going to struggle to attract loyal, long-term customers, he said.
But if a community mall isn’t in the right location and doesn’t have an appealing mix of brand-name clients? The odds will be against it succeeding.
“You might have an older mall in an area in which someone came in and built and built a bigger and better mousetrap,” Brochert said. “The old mall will falter. The newer mall could be 10 miles away, but it’s still in the same geographic trade area. Consumers will shop in the newer mall.”
There are community mall success stories, and Lormax Stern is involved in one now. The company in 2013 bought the struggling Macomb Mall in Roseville, Michigan. The 950,000-square-foot mall was struggling at the time, more than half empty. A closed Crowley’s department store had sat empty for more than 10 years.
Lormax Stern moved quickly. It tore down the empty department store and replaced it with a Dick’s Sporting Goods that opened last year. It got rid of the lottery stores, cigarette shops and the merchants who sold off-brand disposable phones. The company stripped the malls ceilings and floors to give the center a brighter, more inviting look.
In 2015, the mall was scheduled to get new retailers such as Rue 21, H&M and Ulta Beauty.
Brochert said that the Macomb Mall rejuvenation has been successful largely because the mall had an advantage that many struggling community malls don’t: It was located far from any regional malls — the nearest is located more than 10 miles away — in one of the region’s retail deserts.
“If you give them a good option, people would rather shop in their own neighborhoods,” Brochert said. “This renovation was needed, and we are seeing an increase in shoppers who are coming back to this mall on a regular basis.”