malls

Soccer Practice At the Mall? How Shopping Centers Are Adapting to Post-COVID Life

Many malls are retooling some of their (sometimes empty) retail spaces into experiences — special events like sports for kids, fitness classes or even scavenger hunts

NBC Universal, Inc.

The pandemic has changed the way many people shop, and in turn has forced places like malls to rethink how they do business.

E-commerce has grown and will likely continue to do so, and the pandemic has shrunken many already thin profit margins for shopping centers. As a result, many are retooling some of their (sometimes empty) retail spaces into experiences — special events like sports for kids, fitness classes or even scavenger hunts.

The Jefferson Valley Mall in Yorktown Heights, New York, has embraced the changes, leading Town Supervisor Matthew Slater to say the area is "turning more into a community center than a retail center."

Instead of established brick and mortar retailers, new anchor tenants often involve health and fitness. Businesses like Pizzazzles (which offers kids space to do their remote learning and dance around with bubbles after lunch) or Footbik (an early development soccer facility) hope that as parents drop off and pick up their kids, they will also take some time to pick up some items at the mall.

"We're bringing repeat customers here every week," said Footbik Regional Manager Michael Marceante. "We have 250 kids here. So those parents are coming here once or twice a week."

As many malls close, and even more struggle financially, the town of Yorktown Heights said it is willing to work with Jefferson Valley to keep it afloat . That's not simply out of the goodness of their heart — it comes down to money for the town as well.

"It's our second-biggest taxpayer in the town of Yorktown, and so we are here as a partner with them," Slater said.

Mall hours are still two hours shorter than they were pre-COVID, but they are hoping to add to those hours as restrictions ease, as well as add more events to bring people into the mall.

"The events are coming out again. We're going to have some beer nights, wine nights outside throughout this summer," said Alexa O'Rourke, the general manager of the Jefferson Valley Mall.

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