Is the future of malls outside?
On Friday, Westfield Valley Fair, the Bay Area’s largest mall, opened an open-air pop-up market in front of Bloomingdale’s.
The pop-up tents arrive as many enclosed malls, including those across California, remain closed as a preventive measure against the spread of COVID-19. Health experts have found people are significantly less likely to contract the coronavirus while outside.
Open from Friday through Sunday, the space features 17 retailers and restaurants — including Levi’s, Coach, Pottery Barn and Ann Taylor — with more expected to be added.
The mall has made cabanas available for about a half a dozen high-end stores. Kate Diefenderfer, director of marketing at Westfield Valley Fair, told KTVU Fox 2, “Clients can actually book appointments to visit our luxury retailers upstairs in private cabana spaces on our outdoor terrace.”
The pop-up will run from July 24 to August 16 and will be extended if successful. Other Westfield malls across the country are launching similar programs.
Enclosed malls were already seeing weak traffic prior to the pandemic due to the shift to online selling and struggles at department store anchors. With the spread of COVID-19, Jan Kniffen, a retail consultant and former executive at May Department Stores, in June predicted that a third of U.S. malls could close by 2021.
At many enclosed malls, only stores with exterior entrances have been able to remain open, and curbside pick-up remains a challenge for inside tenants. Landlords are being asked to upgrade air filtration systems to improve the quality of airflow.
At the same time, the social distancing ease of outdoor shopping has amplified the appeal of open-air shopping environments, including lifestyle centers, outlet malls and strip centers.
Open-air shopping environments were drawing steadier traffic than traditional enclosed malls in recent years in part because big box stores, grocery stores, salons and gyms can serve as anchors. Outdoor plazas also offer up more dining and entertainment options.
“Open-air malls provide a safe space for people to congregate,” Stenn Parton, chief retail officer at DJM, which manages open-air malls in Southern California and Texas, told Glossy. “The future of outdoor malls is very bright.”
- Open Air Market – Westfield Valley Fair
- San Jose mall reinvents itself with open-air shopping concept – KTVU Fox 2
- Westfield Valley Fair Launches Open-Air Market – WWD
- A third of America’s malls will disappear by next year, says ex-department store exec – CNBC
- Are open-air malls the future of physical retail? – Glossy
- Curbside pickup is great for everyone involved, but it’s a headache for malls – CNN Business/WXII12
- Why Covid-19 Might Be A Catalyst That Changes Retail Forever – Robert H. Smith School of Business
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are open-air malls and shopping centers better positioned for survival versus enclosed malls? Does Westfield Valley Fair’s open-air pop-up offer any insights into how enclosed malls may be reimagined amid the pandemic?