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As Covid restrictions ease, expect to see more malls transform into family entertainment destinations where shopping may not even be what attracts shoppers.

Retail analysts say it has become necessary for mall operators to diversify the mall experience beyond shopping in order to stay relevant to consumers – especially as the pandemic has made online shopping more popular than ever.

“There are generations of families, from grandparents to grandchildren, who like to spend their Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon at the mall,” said Burt Flickinger, retail expert and chief executive of the firm. retail consultancy Strategic Resource Group. “Offering them other activities, like indoor skydiving or Legoland theme parks, that allow them to spend that time together outside of a store is a good way to keep them at the mall longer and keep going. to spend.”

It could also be a boost for store tenants, he said. “Ironically, our research also shows that adding entertainment experiences moves more money to mall retailers and not away from them,” Flickinger said.

Tangier Outlets

which operates 36 premium outdoor outlet centers in 20 states and Canada, seeks to enhance the shopping experience at its locations with experiential offerings such as virtual golf, microbreweries and yes, Pickleball.

The company said the aim was to attract new, younger customers and get them to spend more time at outlets when shopping.

“We had seven deals last year to bring in craft breweries and we hope to bring in more,” said Stephen Yalof, CEO of Tanger Outlets.

Golf is another attraction, he added. “Many of our centers are in resort areas and golf is popular.” A Tanger Outlet in Hilton Head, SC added XGolf: a three-in-one concept that includes a grill and sports bar, an indoor golf simulation experience and a golf pro shop.

“We want to expand experiential opportunities like these across our portfolio,” Yalof said.

And if you want to know more about beekeeping, Tangier also offers bee colonies on the roofs of some of its sites. This is thanks to a partnership with Alvéole, a social beekeeping company that offers programs and habitats for the declining bee population in the United States. It offers people the opportunity to learn and get involved in urban beekeeping.

Pickleball is an activity that has captivated America during the pandemic. It’s like tennis, but not really. The game is low impact, played on a smaller indoor or outdoor court, and combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping pong.

You play it with a racket and a perforated plastic ball. Best of all, no training is required, making it suitable for all ages.

A Puttshack location offering a tech-infused mini-golf experience at Oak Brook Mall in Chicago.

How popular is Pickleball? It’s the fastest growing sport in America for the second straight year, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, and has more than 4.8 million players nationwide, a jump of 39.3 % compared to two years ago. Tennis, another popular sport, had 21.6 million players who hit the courts in 2020, up 22% from the previous year, according to the latest data from the United States Tennis Association.

“One of our new executive vice presidents is a rated Pickleball player,” Yalof said. He said Tangier is currently in talks with a company that combines Pickleball and food and drink options.

Malls are an ideal setting for the game, said Laura Gainor of USA Pickleball, the sport’s national governing body. “It’s a Pickleball player’s dream because it’s a big indoor space and you can play the sport all year round,” she said.

A Pickleball court is one quarter the size of a tennis court. “You can fit six or even 12 courts in an empty department store,” she said. “And these tribunals can be permanent or temporary. It only takes a few minutes to set up a lot and take it down.

Examples are already springing up. A vacant space in a mall in Colorado Springs, Colorado is being transformed into a large indoor Pickleball complex, according to a local report.

Pickleball has also caught the eye of Brookfield Properties, which operates 170 malls in 43 states.

“I think Pickleball is pretty good,” said Britton Burridge, Brookfield’s vice president of leasing. “Having a Pickleball court attached to a restaurant just makes sense. It’s all about finding the right location in terms of space. But we are certainly interested.

Burridge said: “While we love the retail stores in our centers, a visit to the mall is a social experience. All of these other experiences help increase dwell time in a mall, making us more relevant to today’s consumers. »

Brookfield launched an immersive art exhibit, Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, at its Oak Brook mall in Chicago in 2021.

Some popular experiences at Brookfield malls, he said, are virtual gaming concepts that transport the player into the game via virtual reality and indoor skydiving. Burridge said his team sought to capture consumers’ attention through other creative means, such as traveling exhibits located in empty department stores.

Last summer, the company opened the Michelangelo Sistine Chapel Exhibit, an immersive art exhibit at its Oak Brook mall in Chicago.

Thomas LaSalvia, senior economist at Moody’s Analytics, said there was a need for mall operators to find ways to achieve a consistent critical mass of visitors.

“These operators have to act more and more like urban planners, in the sense that if the number of visitors drops below a certain threshold, the environment of the mall suffers, which makes a trip to the mall even more less appealing to everyone,” LaSalvia said.

“By adding a greater level of diversity, it’s more likely that at all times of the day there will be enough people to stay above that critical mass and keep the mall as busy as needed,” did he declare.