The weekend after Thanksgiving has traditionally marked the start of the holiday shopping season, with bargain seekers on Black Friday leading the way into the retail sector’s busy period.
But gone are the days of crowds queuing outside of malls and big department stores, and many shoppers and retailers are opting to go online instead.
What does this mean for the spaces that were once the heart of retail?
“The US has been overburdened for a long time. So in a way, this is a correct adjustment to the amount of shopping we need per inhabitant,” said Alexandra Lange, an architecture and design critic who authored the book Meet Me By the Fountain: An Inside History of the Mall.
This has prompted mall owners to look for new ways to keep their properties relevant, from redevelopment to rethinking who makes up a traditional tenant pool.
“It also sounds like the mix of things happening in Tucson’s malls really aligns with what’s happening elsewhere,” Lange said.
In particular, malls evolving into denser, mixed-use spaces are following a national trend, she said.
“People who live in these suburbs want more walkable communities, they want a more diverse range of stores. Maybe they want to work from home but have somewhere they can go for meetings every now and then, so co-working spaces. It actually makes a lot of sense to convert these formerly single-use retail spaces into mixed-use villages.”
As malls look for ways to stay relevant in the retail world, a major mall owner is pushing to make the businesses it leases more racially friendly.
Brookfield Properties owns the Tucson Mall among other properties in the area.
The company aims to expand local minority-owned businesses by leasing its premises through its Partner to Empower program, which offers various forms of support including financial help, one-on-one counseling and a four-week retail business management course.
“To me, everyone is better off when you add diversity,” said Michelle Isabel, vice president at Brookfield, who leads the Partner to Empower program. “That’s why we want to give our shopping centers more diversity. We want to bring more diversity to the communities we serve. You know, make them better, make them all-encompassing.”
Isabel said the campaign started in 2020 when Brookfield was looking for ways to help fight structural racism.
“I have to tell you that this program that we have implemented as a company is brilliant for all the right reasons,” said Jeff Berger, senior general manager of the Tucson Mall. “And it’s exciting for the mall because since the program’s inception, we’ve accepted two business applications from African Americans, one being Majestic Jewels, an entrepreneur who sells affordable handcrafted jewelry, and Sweet Kisses, a young entrepreneur who sells personalized make.” -up products.”
He also said it ensures the mall has a better mix of stores and offers more than the chains expect.
“Basically, I think that the success of a regional mall is to create a full mix of merchandise, not just with the typical national stores that you expect, but I think the local and regional retailers are what really make a mall special.” said Berger.
While the owners of Tucson Mall are rethinking what’s inside, the owners of Foothills Mall on Tucson’s Northwest side are completely rethinking their space.
The mall was purchased in 2016 by Bourn Companies, who previously owned it in the 1990s. In 2018, it received approval from the Pima County Board of Supervisors for a zoning change that would allow it to remodel the mall as a mixed-use area with opportunities ranging from multi-family housing, office space, retail, dining, and entertainment.
“We had to relocate certain tenants and make arrangements with those tenants,” said Bourn Companies’ Dillon Walker. “This has really been a core activity for the past four years and now we’ve finally got all that behind us and are preparing to break ground in the new year.”
Demolition and construction were originally scheduled to begin in 2019, but the company took time to reconsider some of its plans before beginning.
“So I think in 2019 there was an opportunity to start some of that work and I think we’re better off getting a broader picture of that work and now when we start in 2023 we really can.” take a holistic view of the project.”
Demolition is slated to begin early next year, Walker said, with some spaces, including a movie theater and country bar, remaining open during construction.
New spaces will open in phases, with some potential areas to follow late next year or early 2024. “We’re really trying to revitalize an idea of destination retail and entertainment, and that’s what malls were,” Walker said. “We think it has to be dense, have an urban feel, it has to have the amenities. And that’s what we’re trying to bring into this project and create an environment that’s super safe and super comfortable and you have a one stop shop for all these great activities.”