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Opinion
Leticia Miranda

Skiing at Your Neighborhood Mall? Why Not?

The pandemic has given struggling shopping centers the opportunity for a refresh as people look for chances to meet and mingle — but it’s an expensive bet that’s failed before.

The American Dream mall combines activities with shopping.

The American Dream mall combines activities with shopping.

Photographer: Kena Betancur/Getty Images

Mall owners think they have a sure-fire way of turning around their beleaguered shopping malls: Do away with the shopping. To fill increasingly empty space vacated by retailers, they are adding things like ax-throwing bars, golf simulation venues, high-end yoga studios and even mini casinos. Developers have dubbed this trend ``experiential retail,’’ which is a fancy way of saying these costly, seemingly last-ditch investments will likely prove to be too little, too late to reverse struggling malls’ descent into obsolescence.

The business case for experiential retail certainly sounds compelling. New tenants such as the tech-driven mini golf company Puttshack and indoor cycling businesses like Xponential Fitness Inc.’s CycleBar have been driving a lift in traffic to stale traditional malls. CBL & Associates Properties, a Tennessee-based real estate developer, replaced an empty Sears department store at Galleria Mall in York, Pennsylvania, with an 80,000 square foot Hollywood Casino by Penn Entertainment Inc. Within weeks of the casino opening in August 2021, traffic to the mall increased 31% and the positive growth trend continued through July 2022, according to retail location analytics firm Placer.ai. The Pierre Bossier Mall in Bossier City, Louisiana, opened a child-friendly indoor theme park by Surge Entertainment in April. The park helped lift the median time people spend in the mall above 75 minutes for the four months after it opened from 51 to 58 minutes between July 2021 and March 2022, according to Placer.ai.